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Creating a sustainable future for Ghana
by Taisia Osipova

Sustainability refers to meeting the needs of the present while focusing on the needs of the future. With the increase in the amount of different types of waste, specifically plastic, and a limited number of non-renewable energy sources, it is now becoming more important than ever to find a sustainable solution that will create energy while decreasing the amount of waste on the planet.

This demand is becoming even more clear in countries such as Ghana, where excess waste and unreliable energy sources result in problems such as health issues, unemployment, and poor education and infrastructure. In order to analyze the sustainability of a project, we must look at it from various economic, environmental, and social perspectives.

Currently, SRH Hochschule Berlin has partnered with various organizations such as the Builders of Today Association (BOTA) in Ghana as well as German and Ghanaian universities in order to create more efficient technology for the pyrolyzing (thermal treatment without oxygen) of cocoa husks in the Asaman region of Ghana, which are not currently being utilized in any way.

Coming from an international business background, I had a wonderful opportunity to involve myself more in the renewable energy and waste management fields and be able to learn about their application in projects such as this one. This project is also considered to be a part of the sustainable energy for all initiative, which was created by the UN in 2011 with the objectives of doubling the renewable energy sources and energy efficiency, as well as creating global energy access by 2030.

“A number of improved carbonization technologies are currently being used in Ghana by charcoal producers for the export market. However, most charcoal produced for the local market is done using traditional, inefficient technologies. A high impact opportunity identified is the promotion of improved carbonization technologies which would significantly reduce the amount of wood fuel lost using inefficient technologies. The firewood to charcoal conversion rate estimated for inefficient technologies is 6:1. More efficient carbonization technologies with conversion rates above what is currently used would be promoted. Improved carbonization technologies identified would be adapted to the Ghanaian context and the capacity of local charcoal producers built to facilitate its uptake”. [1]

The main reason that the ENGHACO ("Energize Ghana with Cocoa Husk") project is sustainable is because of the raw material which is being used to create energy. This material is cocoa husk, a type of biomass. Ghana is considered the second major cocoa producer in the world after Côte d'Ivoire, so this material is often found in the cocoa farms and is usually left to rot on the ground. It is also a renewable source of energy since there will always be cocoa beans growing on the farms. In addition, biomass is also considered more sustainable than other, nonrenewable energy sources. 
 
“ReCiPe is a method for the impact assessment (LCIA) in an LCA. Life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) translates emissions and resource extractions into a limited number of environmental impact scores by means of so-called characterization factors.” [2] There is a significant difference between using non-renewable energy sources, such as natural gas, and biomass such as wood. This can be noticed specifically in terms of the last endpoint score of damage to resources.

From a technological aspect, the machines used for pyrolysis are improving every day, specifically in terms of their efficiency. However, there is still always room for growth. New ways to pyrolyze material are also constantly being developed, as well as new ways of incorporating different sources of fuel stock, such as pomegranate peels [3].

While there are several articles claiming that pyrolysis is not actually energy-efficient, and more energy has to be put in then you can get out of the pyrolysis process [4], this statement is not necessarily true. The energy required to heat up the wood or other fuel stock up to the temperature required to pyrolyze it is actually lower compared to the energy derived from the gasses such as methane and carbon monoxide which are created by pyrolysis. These gasses also have the potential to make a pyrolysis system self-sustainable, since they are produced from pyrolysis and can then be recycled to power the system. The self-sustainability of this system will also have the potential to make the system more efficient.

“The average efficiency for various feedstock were determined to be 59.0% (teak), 40.9% (Kane), 67.5% (bamboo) and 14.8% (wood pellets). The overall Ferrocement downdraft gasifier coupled to the engine system efficiency of generating electricity from biomass feedstock was determined to be 55.8%.” [5]
There are also some arguments citing potential risk to investors with a low rate of return on their investment and a high rate of financial failures, such as “numerous examples of plants that have been forced to shut down due to technical failures and financial failures. Other projects have failed in the proposals stage after raising significant investments due to community opposition and government scrutiny into false and exaggerated claims.” [6]

In the case of this project, the idea will be economically viable, since the special type of coal created from pyrolysis, known as biochar, the different gases, and even wood vinegar, which is a byproduct of the biochar, produced by pyrolysis could be easily marketable in Ghana, and would be supported by the local community.

This project will also greatly impact the lives of farmers in Ghana and give them more opportunities to learn about sustainability and work toward a better future. In order to accomplish this goal, there are steps that should be taken in order to increase investment in capacity building, education, and training, which will improve the adaptation and acceptance of this new technology model.

The pyrolysis process will also be beneficial for the soil of the cocoa farmers. This is because the biochar, “can be used on the farm as an excellent soil amender that can sequester carbon. Biochar is highly absorbent and therefore increases the soil's ability to retain water, nutrients and agricultural chemicals, preventing water contamination and soil erosion. Soil application of bio-char may enhance both soil quality and be an effective means of sequestering large amounts of carbon, thereby helping to mitigate global climate change through carbon sequestration.” [7] This is especially useful for the farmers in Ghana since most of the soil that has been used for farming for a long time is very dry and does not contain a lot of minerals.

Overall, the ENGHACO project could be considered sustainable from all of the various perspectives. With more investment and time and effort, this project has the potential to become an extremely important step toward a more sustainable future with more energy and less waste. I would encourage all of the students at SRH to become more involved in following this project, especially if they are specifically interested in waste management. It has been so amazing to watch this project grow and to assist with its research and overall progress. 

References

[1] “Sustainable Energy for All (SE4ALL) Country Action Agenda”, Action Agenda for Ghana, December 2015, online

[2] “LCIA: The ReCiPe Model.” Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM),11/02/2018, online

[3] Saadi, W. et. al. Pyrolysis technologies for pomegranate (Punica granatum L.) peel wastes. Prospects in the bioenergy sector,  Renewable Energy
Volume 136, June 2019, Pages 373-382, online

[4] Neil Rollinson, Andrew & Oladejo, Jumoke. 'Patented blunderings', efficiency awareness, and self-sustainability claims in the pyrolysis energy from waste sector. Resources Conservation and Recycling. February 2019, online

[5] Commeh, Michael, et. al. “Experimental study of ferrocement downdraft gasifier engine system using different biomass feedstocks in Ghana” Sustainable Energy Technologies and Assessments, Volume 31, February 2019, online

[6] “Waste Gasification & Pyrolysis: High Risk, Low Yield Processes for Waste Management.” Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, 5 July 2018, online

[7] What Is Pyrolysis? United States Department of Agriculture, Eastern Regional Research Center: Wyndmoor, PA, 4/14/2017, online

ENGHACO project