RDRutherford

June 11, 2007

Namibia: There’s Power in the Bush

Filed under: Africa, LDCs — rdrutherford @ 8:43 pm

Wezi Tjaronda
Windhoek

Efforts to find ways of combating invader bush have culminated in a bush-to-power project that may start operating in June if all goes according to plan.

The project – Combating Bush Encroachment for Namibia’s Development (C-Bend) – is a collaborative effort of three organizations, namely, the Desert Research Foundation Namibia, Namibia Agricultural Union and Namibia National Farmers’ Union. Plans are for it to be implemented between 2007 and 2008, after the EU-funded Rural Poverty Reduction Programme provisionally approved financing the project.

The project will be located in one of the areas with a high density of invader bush around the north-central areas of Tsumeb, Otavi and Grootfontein.

Other conditions of the project site will be the proximity of the areas to electricity, where the generated power can be fed into the national grid and the willingness of farmers around those areas to have their farms used.

C-Bend’s fact sheet says that Namibia’s bush-to-electricity energy potential in bush-infested areas lies in using available electricity-generating technologies and applying ecological management principles that can generate between 0.5 and 2.5 MWh per hectares per year.

At a sustainable yield of 2 MWh per hectare, some 1.5 million hectares of bush harvested each year would ensure that Namibia’s entire annual electricity consumption of 3 000 GWh is generated.

Studies conducted in 2000 assessed both large-scale (10-30 MW) and small-scale (0.2 – 0.5 MW) biomass technologies, and although both were found to be technically feasible, the economic feasibility was undermined because of cheaper electricity imports from South Africa.

But the current situation of lack of generation capacity and energy security as well as technology developments present new opportunities for the introduction of small-scale decentralised wood gasification technologies.

A 0.5MW wood gasification plant costs over N$4 million and produces 3 500 MWh per hectare and taking into account sales of N$0.3 per KWh, annual revenues from the sale of electricity would yield some N$1 million. This would also result in an increased carrying capacity of debushed land and also yield additional income.

At a meeting on Bio-Energy recently, DRFN’s Detlof von Oertzen said the project would also address productivity issues, job creation and improved livelihoods.

“Poverty statistics are shocking. We face an uncertain energy future while we have a very high unemployment rate,” he said, adding that the project gave the country a unique opportunity to address local problems with local solutions.

“This is a first tiny step to use local resources in finding solutions,” he added.

He said the project has the endorsement of the country’s power utility, Nampower, the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, the Namibia Women’s Association and the regional councils.

Studies indicate that 26 million hectares of agricultural land are infested with bush encroachment, therefore preventing the growth of useful grass species and compaction of soil in the bush encroached areas.

This has reduced the land’s carrying capacity resulting in reduced cattle numbers over the years and leading to economic losses of N$700 million every year.

C-Bend aims at assessing the actual economics and developing the best management practices for rural bush-to-energy, which paves the way for the introduction of such technologies in rural communities and areas.

Apart from generating electricity, invader bush is a resource from which animal fed, charcoal products, chipboards and bush blocks can be produced.
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Although there are other methods to limit bush encroachment such as herbicides, use of browsers, fire, stumping or felling and bulldozing among others, many of these methods have been found to be so costly that farmers say it is cheaper to buy another farm than to debush.

The objective of the project is to get a bush-to-electricity enterprise up and running and through the enterprise hopefully change the perception that invader bush is a nuisance.

The bush will be harvested sustainably as a resource in a way that it can be re-harvested in future.
Namibia: There’s Power in the Bush

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May 23, 2007

Solar Flashlight Lets Africa’s Sun Deliver the Luxury of Light to the Poorest Villages

Filed under: LDCs, Technology — rdrutherford @ 8:51 pm

Solar Flashlight Lets Africa’s Sun Deliver the Luxury of Light to the Poorest Villages
Solar Flashlights

FUGNIDO, Ethiopia — At 10 p.m. in a sweltering refugee camp here in western Ethiopia, a group of foreigners was making its way past thatch-roofed huts when a tall, rail-thin man approached a silver-haired American and took hold of his hands.
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The New York Times

A Houston oilman brought the solar flashlight to Fugnido camp.

The man, a Sudanese refugee, announced that his wife had just given birth, and the boy would be honored with the visitor’s name. After several awkward translation attempts of “Mark Bent,” it was settled. “Mar,” he said, will grow up hearing stories of his namesake, the man who handed out flashlights powered by the sun.

Since August 2005, when visits to an Eritrean village prompted him to research global access to artificial light, Mr. Bent, 49, a former foreign service officer and Houston oilman, has spent $250,000 to develop and manufacture a solar-powered flashlight.

His invention gives up to seven hours of light on a daily solar recharge and can last nearly three years between replacements of three AA batteries costing 80 cents.

Over the last year, he said, he and corporate benefactors like Exxon Mobil have donated 10,500 flashlights to United Nations refugee camps and African aid charities.

Another 10,000 have been provided through a sales program, and 10,000 more have just arrived in Houston awaiting distribution by his company, SunNight Solar.

“I find it hard sometimes to explain the scope of the problems in these camps with no light,” Mr. Bent said. “If you’re an environmentalist you think about it in terms of discarded batteries and coal and wood burning and kerosene smoke; if you’re a feminist you think of it in terms of security for women and preventing sexual abuse and violence; if you’re an educator you think about it in terms of helping children and adults study at night.”

Here at Fugnido, at one of six camps housing more than 21,000 refugees 550 miles west of Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, Peter Gatkuoth, a Sudanese refugee, wrote on “the importance of Solor.”

“In case of thief, we open our solor and the thief ran away,” he wrote. “If there is a sick person at night we will took him with the solor to health center.”

A shurta, or guard, who called himself just John, said, “I used the light to scare away wild animals.” Others said lights were hung above school desks for children and adults to study after the day’s work.

Mr. Bent’s efforts have drawn praise from the United Nations, Africare, Rice University and others.

Kevin G. Lowther, Southern Africa director for Africare, the largest American aid group for Africa, said his staff was sending 5,000 of his lights, purchased by Exxon Mobil at $10 each, to rural Angola.

Dave Gardner, a spokesman for Exxon Mobil, said the company’s $50,000 donation in November grew out of an earlier grant it made to Save the Children to build six public schools in Kibala, Angola, a remote area of Kwanza Sul Province.

“At a dedication ceremony for the first four schools in June 2006,” Mr. Gardner said in an e-mail message, “we noticed that a lot of the children had upper respiratory problems, part of which is likely due to the use of wood, charcoal, candles and kero for lighting in the small homes they have in Kibala.”

The Awty International School, a large prep school in Houston, has sent hundreds of the flashlights to schools it sponsors in Haiti, Cameroon and Ethiopia, said Chantal Duke, executive assistant to the head of school.

“In places where there is absolutely no electricity or running water, having light at night is a luxury many families don’t have and never did and which we take for granted in developed countries,” Ms. Duke said by e-mail. Mr. Bent, a former Marine and Navy pilot, served under diplomatic titles in volatile countries like Angola, Bosnia, Nigeria and Somalia in the early 1990s.

In 2001 he went to work as the general manager of an oil exploration team off the coast of the Red Sea in Eritrea, for a company later acquired by the French oil giant Perenco. But the oil business, he said, “didn’t satisfy my soul.”

The inspiration for the flashlight hit him, he said, while working for Perenco in Asmara, Eritrea. One Sunday he visited a local dump to watch scavenging by baboons and birds of prey, and came upon a group of homeless boys who had adopted the dump as their home.

They took him home to a rural village where he noticed that many people had nothing to light their homes, schools and clinics at night.

With a little research, he discovered that close to two billion people around the world go without affordable access to light.

He worked with researchers, engineers and manufacturers, he said, at the Department of Energy, several American universities, and even NASA before finding a factory in China to produce a durable, cost-effective solar-powered flashlight whose shape was inspired by his wife’s shampoo bottle.

The light, or sun torch, has a narrow solar panel on one side that charges the batteries, which can last between 750 and 1,000 nights, and uses the more efficient light-emitting diodes, or L.E.D.s, to cast its light. “L.E.D.s used to be very expensive,” Mr. Bent said. “But in the last 18 months they’ve become cheaper, so distributing them on a widespread scale is possible.”

The flashlights usually sell for about $19.95 in American stores, but he has established a BoGo — for Buy One, Give One — program on his Web site, BoGoLight.com, where if you buy one flashlight for $25, he will buy and ship another one to Africa, and donate $1 to one of the aid groups he works with.

Mr. Bent, who is now an oil consultant, lives in Houston with his wife and four young children. When he is not in the air flying his own plane, he is often on the road.

Traveling early this month in Ethiopia’s border area with Sudan, Mr. Bent stopped in each town’s market to methodically check the prices and quality of flashlights and batteries imported from China.

He unscrewed the flashlights one by one, inspecting the batteries, pronouncing them “terrible — they won’t last two nights.”

On his last day along the border, Mr. Bent visited Rapan Sadeeq, 21, a Sudanese refugee who is something of a celebrity in his camp, Bonga, for his rudimentary self-made radios, walkie-talkies and periscopes.

The two men huddled in the hut, discussing what parts would be needed to power the radio with solar panels instead of clunky C batteries. “Oh, I can definitely send you some parts,” Mr. Bent said. “You can be my field engineer in Ethiopia.”

Will Connors reported from Fugnido, Ethiopia, and Ralph Blumenthal from Houston.

May 16, 2007

Burning wood to power fridges

Filed under: LDCs, Technology — rdrutherford @ 11:09 pm

A consortium of UK universities hopes to bring affordable domestic appliances to rural areas of developing countries by developing a device that acts as a refrigerator, cooker and power generator all in one, powered by locally available biomass fuels such as wood.

The SCORE (Stove for Cooking, Refrigeration and Electricity) project, led by the University of Nottingham in England, has been granted £2 million (US$4 million) to develop the device using a technology called thermoacoustics. The United Kingdom’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council have contributed 80% of this funding.

Thermoacoustics takes advantage of the way that sound waves can be produced when a gas is heated unevenly. In a thermoacoustic engine, such as the Stirling engine developed in the nineteenth century as an alternative to steam power, these pressure sound waves drive mechanical motion.

This process may also be run in reverse: the sound waves can be used to extract heat, pumping it from a cool source to a hot sink and thereby inducing cooling.

Thermoacoustic engines and refrigeration units have been used before in high-tech settings, as power sources or cooling units on spacecraft, satellites and military craft for example. But it needn’t be limited to these top-end applications. “In principle, thermoacoustic devices are quite simple and should be able to be made very cheaply,” says Scott Backhaus of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, a specialist on thermoacoustics who is assisting the SCORE team.

Sound system

In the SCORE device, says the project director Paul Riley at the University of Nottingham, UK, “burning wood heats a gas-filled pipe at one end. The gas moves from the hot part, where it expands, to the cold part, where it contracts. The pipe then resonates rather like an organ pipe.” This produces acoustic pressure waves, which can be harnessed to produce electricity in the reverse process to how a loudspeaker turns electrical signals into vibrations.

The sound waves are also used to drive a second engine that operates as a heat pump to remove heat from a nearby refrigeration unit. And the heat from the burning wood can also be used for cooking in a conventional cooker stove. The fridge and the cooker are connected by “the pipes necessary to carry the hum,” says Riley — but are kept apart so that the heat from the stove doesn’t interfere with the cooling.

The system will only generate electricity and cool the fridge while it is operating as a stove.

One of the main attractions of SCORE stoves is that they don’t need an external electricity supply. “The electric grid in developing countries basically only serves the cities,” Backhaus explains. And many homes are already using a fuel source such as wood for cooking. “Over two billion people use open fires to cook,” says Riley.

SCORE aims to be producing these fridge/stoves in significant numbers within five years.

Do it yourself

Backhaus thinks this goal is feasible, but admits that it is challenging. He cautions that the SCORE team “will have to stay focused on keeping the device inexpensive and not let a desire for technical perfection get in the way of the true goal: improving the living conditions in the developing world.”

The research team recognizes that the science is only a part of the challenge: success will also depend on ensuring that local communities have enough expertise to maintain and ultimately to produce the devices themselves.

“One of the keys is to make this device simple enough so that it can be produced cheaply by the local population,” says Backhaus. Local researchers and experts from the development charity Practical Action will advise on how to best introduce the new technology. The group is already discussing their project with governments of developing countries.

Burning wood to power fridges: Project aims to bring high-tech device to developing world.

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