Biogas technology application is widespread in Asia but totally "underdone" in Africa. Likewise, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), linked to carbon credits, is underdone in Africa. There is apparently a big opportunity here. Actually there are probably two opportunities at least, but both must be subsidised – either by governments or international systems like the CDM mechanism.
The first opportunity is with industry – for instance Talbot & Talbot (which uses the CDM mechanism as a subsidy for its factory-related projects (see page 6)).
The second opportunity, at household level, could relate to public programmes to improve sanitation. Basically, biogas digestors offer an excellent alternative – more sanitary and much more productive – than French drains. Households can dispose of their effluent and excreta this way, and produce gas and inoffensive fertilizer.
It is said that four people and three cows are enough to keep a home biogas digestor in operation.
There is little awareness of these opportunities among African governments currently. But the intensive re-examination of more environmentally-friendly technologies internationally may change that soon. Business people should be ready for when that happens.
Currently in South Africa at least, there is much interest in the production of ethanol from maize. But as the US and other countries which were early entrants into ethanol production from maize are showing, there are big drawbacks. The process is itself energy-intensive so the actual benefits to the environment are questionable; also, it raises food commodity prices (and increases the misery of the poor through higher food inflation).
Other alternatives must be considered. Africa now has an opportunity to benefit from better-informed thinking – because it has been a laggard in implemented any biofuel policies. – Teigue Payne
Editorial by: Teigue Payne, Erika Ter Steege, Iris van Breda
Perhaps old technologies like biogas will become much more applicable in the future.