This project was conducted between June 2019 – September 2021 with UK aid funding from the UK government via the Transforming Energy Access programme.
Sub-Saharan Africa has a huge variety of bioenergy feedstocks with an enormous potential to meet Africa’s burgeoning demand for modern energy services. Making more effective use of biomass-based energy can play an important role in improving energy access. Given that biomass feedstocks are closely related to agricultural practices and land use, suitably designed bioenergy investments have the potential to improve agricultural productivity, support agro-forestry, localise energy supply, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, reduce deforestation, generate supply chain economic activities, deliver social benefits and empower poor communities.
However, commercial bioenergy development has been extremely fragmented with a track record of poor implementation in Africa. Key barriers to its commercial utilisation include:
- biomass resource (high dispersal, poor supply infrastructure and high sourcing costs)
- technology (insufficient understanding amongst local players of feedstock-technology fit and a lack of technologies tailored to African contexts)
- economics and finance (inadequate or non-existent supply chains, high costs of pre-treatment and conversion, and insufficiently robust and tested business models)
- unfavourable institutional and regulatory frameworks and inadequate understanding of interfaces between different supply chain stages and actors
BSEAA 2 was designed as an applied research programme aimed at generating evidence-based analysis, practical resources and tools to assist entrepreneurs, investors and policymakers interested in the development of commercial-scale bioenergy in the region. The aim was to help create a comprehensive understanding of the opportunities that exist by catalysing the development of commercial-scale bioenergy in sub-Saharan Africa.
The research focused on opportunities for anaerobic digestion (AD) and combustion for electricity and/or heat generation in the range 10kW to 5MW. Opportunities, challenges and requirements for commercial deployment of these technologies were investigated in ten countries (Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia), through the six themes of biomass resources, technology, economic competitiveness, commercial viability, institutional, market and regulatory frameworks, and gender and inclusion (G&I).
Project findings and conclusions
The project began with the identification, analysis and screening of a range of bioenergy ‘pathways’, to identify the most promising opportunities for further investigation. Seven priority demand sectors in five countries were shortlisted.
These sectors were investigated in more detail to explore the experiences of both adopters and non-adopters of bioenergy technologies through the study’s six inter-linked themes. A summary of the key conclusions from across these seven sectors is presented below:
- The availability of sufficient and suitable feedstock is generally not a barrier to adoption of bioenergy, provided there are durable and commercially viable aggregation systems in place and clarity of ownership, particularly if the feedstock is not available on site.
- Technology is rarely a limiting factor for combustion-based combined heat and power (CHP) systems, though more local adaptation and supply chain development for AD technology would boost the economic case for biogas.
- The economic case for bioenergy, especially for combustion-based CHP, requires significant on-site demand for heat, otherwise the resources are wasted.
- In all cases there should be a transparent enabling environment for electricity suppliers to access the national grid (e.g. cost-reflective Feed-in-Tariffs, net-metering, wheeling to third parties).
- Bioenergy for thermal applications offers the most growth potential within the sectors studied.
- Investment in biomass-based electricity generation is largely limited to enterprises with significant internal requirements.
- Wider adoption is constrained by unsupportive or poorly enforced policies, with a need for much stronger government commitment, particularly for supporting grid electricity exports.
A stand-alone study on the prospects for commercial biomass gasification in sub-Saharan Africa was also undertaken. Drawing upon African and relevant global experiences in gasification over the past forty years, the study concluded that the challenges hindering gasification development in Africa are too onerous to overcome. This gives no room for optimism that gasification can be a commercially sustainable technology for the region.
This research will lead to an improved understanding of the commercial, economic and institutional requirements and opportunities for scaling up generation and application of bioenergy for various uses in low-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The team has developed a range of research reports, tools, databases and policy briefs to guide developers, investors and policy makers advance bioenergy development in the region. These include:
- Seven comprehensive technical reports on bioenergy opportunities in seven promising demand sectors in sub-Saharan Africa (Cement manufacturing, Tea processing, Wood processing, Palm oil processing, Horticulture, Dairy, Sisal processing)
- Seven accompanying policy briefs highlighting relevant regulatory and market conditions, and measures required to catalyse adoption of commercial-scale bioenergy in sub-Saharan Africa (Cement manufacturing, Tea processing, Wood processing, Palm oil processing, Horticulture, Dairy, Sisal processing)
- Validated economic Life Cycle Costing (LCC) toolkit and mass-energy balance (MEB) model , to inform economic and technical potential for entrepreneurs and financiers considering investment in bioenergy in Africa
- Database of prominent technology providers and manufacturers who have undertaken or supported projects in BSEAA2 target countries.
- Database of bioenergy projects across 10 target sub-Saharan African countries
- Report on Prospects for commercial biomass gasification in sub-Saharan Africa
Feedback from industry stakeholders
“I found the LCC toolkit highly aligned with our work at WASE. If adopted, I believe that the tool will beautifully illustrate the cost-benefit analysis of our industriWASE system. It’ll present our clients with their base case versus the industriWASE case, eventually helping them see the added benefits that industriWASE offers.” (Faryal Rohail – Project Manager at WASE, UK)
“The developed BSEAA2 toolbox is robust and timely; it would be a veritable tool to teach our MSc students case studies, particularly in the Bioenergy Conversion Technology course, in the MSc Energy Access and Renewable Energy Technology programme at the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria.” (Dr E.O. Diemuodeke – Faculty of Engineering and Asst. Director of Offshore Technology Institute, University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria)
Register here for the BSEAA2 project’s final online event ‘Realising bioenergy’s potential to help address energy challenges in SSA’ on 22nd September 2021 (11:00-12.30 BST)