Wind, solar and hydro energy have all been highlighted as sources of energy that help meet Africa’s growing power needs. Ghana’s Dela Wosornu is using garbage.
Decomposing organic material, known as biomass, releases gas that can be used to create energy in the form of biofuels. In Ghana, a country with a vast amount of degradable material, it is a viable option for alternative energy.
In Ghana, energy is costly and scarce; this hinders economic growth.
Biomass, such as wood and charcoal, is Ghana’s main energy source, supplying around 60% of the total energy used in the country. Biomass resources cover about 20.8 million hectares of land mass in Ghana. Most of this land is made up of crops and plants that can be converted into solid and liquid biofuels. Wosornu, a renewable energy entrepreneur, is taking advantage of this by transferring landfill gas to energy.
He is involved in the Oti Sanitary Landfill Gas-to-Energy Project, which eliminates the emission of harmful greenhouse gases as well as the spread of disease from the waste. The project reduces the reliance on producing power from fossil fuels by producing energy from the waste that would have otherwise been buried in the landfill.
The solution is quite innovative.
When organic material, such as food waste, is buried in the landfill, it is deprived of oxygen. In this condition, the organic material will decompose and turn into methane gas. The methane will slowly be released into the atmosphere, causing global warming. The project at the Oti landfill doesn’t let this happen. They cover the landfill with soil and drill holes into it. Pipes are then inserted and the gas is sucked out into a generator which makes heat and electricity.
“It’s really a matter of just bringing pipes to where the gas has collected and pumping it out through a vacuum process and then directing that gas to a generator,” says Wosornu.
According to Wosornu, the project is the first of its kind in Ghana. As cities grow and produce more waste, the environmental impact from open dumps becomes increasingly intolerable. The conversion of dumps to engineered landfills like the Oti project is essential.
“Our solution can be applied at any landfill that has received at least 400 tons a day of municipal solid waste and is in reasonably good shape. As there are many landfills in Africa and around the world that are not capturing gas, the future for landfill gas to energy projects is bright,” says Wosornu.
Landfill gas to energy projects have underperformed relative to projected gas and power output. Bearing this in mind, the projected output of the Oti project has been discounted by 70% so that its actual output will meet or exceed the projected output. The Renewable Energy Act in Ghana ensures that there are set prices for each class of renewable energy. It also offers an opportunity to redirect future investments into green energy.
The challenge for Wosornu, is finding reliable buyers for the project’s output. The high cost of doing business in Africa also makes the development costs of these projects higher than the rest of the world.
“There is no doubt that, if properly exploited, renewable energy resources in Africa can make a significant contribution to the continent’s energy supply. In particular, the potential of biofuels on the continent is huge. Within the context of the current financial crisis, stakeholders including policy makers, international partners and the UN should lead the debate on and collectively seek strategies for scaling up renewable energy use so as to increase access to energy and enhance energy security among the many potential benefits of these technologies,” says Kandeh Yumkella, Director-General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).
Wosornu is playing his part.