Africa’s Economic Growth Means More Garbage, Which Can Be Converted to Energy

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Workers for Enviro-Fill work at the Weltevreden Landfill Site on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa Tuesday Aug. 27, 2002. The landfill converts trash into methane gas, which in turn is used as a composite fuel for the dump trucks which service the site. Energy is one of the five key subjects being discussed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development being held in Johannesburg and will be the topic of Wednesday's plenary meeting. (AP Photo/John McConnico)

BY Ken Silverstein

Going green will mean tossing the trash, literally. Cape Town, South Africa is using a waste-to-energy plant to reduce the garbage in its landfill sites while also helping to raise its use of green energy to a fifth of its electricity supply.

The broader context is that South Africa has an electricity crisis that has resulted in a series of brownouts, all to prevent the transmission grid from buckling. In fact, Eskom, which is the state-run power provider, can’t meet the daily demands and is now in need of a financial bailout. Enter waste-to-energy, which is an alternative source of electricity — and one that can ease the country’s reliance on coal. But is this a preferred option?

“Municipal landfill sites are not only an eyesore, they also pose serious environmental and health hazards by generating huge quantities of methane gas,” says the Climate Neutral Group, which provides carbon management services in Africa. Its projects will “capture methane from five landfills sites in Johannesburg and then turn it into electricity, solving two serious issues that South Africa currently faces.”

It expects to produce 19 megawatts of electricity that will power 16,500 homes — the biggest such project in the country.

Consider that 600 million people lack access to electricity across the continent of Africa. And by 2050, its population will grow from 1.1 billion people today to 2 billion, all while the region’s economy continues to expand by 10% a year. That means is that the African people will be demanding more energy while also creating more garbage. If waste-to-energy can become a worthwhile pursuit, it could help reshape Africa — and other developing regions.

Waste-to-energy is a form of biomass: everyday garbage is used as a feedstock to create electricity or heat. The other options are that the trash goes into a landfill and is subsequently incinerated or it is recycled. Read more…

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