Biofuels: a versatile power OPTION to accelerate energy transition in post-Covid Africa

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Biofuels: a versatile power OPTION to accelerate energy transition in post-Covid Africa

Quick Summary

In this great article, Marvin Tabi, CEO of WESAF Energy Solutions is talking about the importance of Biofuels for the energy transition in Africa in this special pandemic environment. See below the points covered:

  1. The relevance of Biofuels for SDG7
  2. Biofuels or Africa’s greatest opportunity for significant emissions reductions
  3. The need for clean cooking to mitigate the effects of pollution.
  4. Sustainable production of biofuels as a ready-made solution

Enjoy the read and stay safe.

ARTICLE

Globally we find ourselves in an unprecedented time where wealth, social standing location, developed or undeveloped country is unable to avoid the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic. What this really drives home is that nature has the ability to swiftly unravel everything the human race has developed in mere weeks.

The relevance of Biofuels for SDG7

The focus of this article is on Africa and specifically the production of biofuels and their importance in the African energy transition in direct relevance to the COVID virus. When we think of SDG7 (Universal access to clean power) we immediately think of electricity. But liquid, gaseous and biomass fuels in fact make up a larger portion of the energy demand in Africa. This misconception has led to a somewhat misplaced focus in the efforts towards African development and energy with the focus being solely on electricity generation. This is in fact not only an Africa issue but a global issue with 2 countries Brazil the US accounting for nearly 40% of total global biofuel production. Issues of sustainability have been raised but operational models and technology advancements now mean biofuels can be produced sustainably.

Biofuels or Africa’s greatest opportunity for significant emissions reductions

Africa and the non-OECD countries still produced nearly 24000mtCo2 in 2019 (Global Carbon atlas) and with further coal and Oil and  Gas capacity to come on line in Africa we must focus on mitigating this to ensure that new fossil fuel capacity does not stretch  further away from renewables which would lead to increased reliance on fossil fuels as the  population grows in tandem with the energy demand. As global citizens we have a responsibility to contribute to transition strategies towards a 1.5 / 2-degree world. Theories of Industrialisation and development taking precedence over climate change are dangerous and create a false narrative that we cannot afford to ignore. Renewables alone cannot meet the growing African energy demand but they can significantly complement existing sources to have a cleaner more holistic energy mix.   To these doubters I say this, if we think the COVID-19 crisis is bad a climate crisis will eclipse this 100 times over, think about it.

IMG 1429 1024x814 - Biofuels: a versatile power OPTION to accelerate energy transition in post-Covid Africa
Figure 1 – Marvin doing a presentation

In the opinion of many experts, biofuels represent Africa’s greatest opportunity for significant emissions reductions; their versatility means they can play a role in the power and transport arenas, 2 of the major polluting sectors. The notion of electric mobility is just not feasible in the short or medium term scenarios due to the weak power  infrastructure and cost implications. With an estimated 200m+ vehicles on the road on the continent, fuel blending continent wide would represent a huge step forward in reducing transport emissions. Strong Policy intervention would have to mandate blending which is present already in many African countries which would in turn stimulate the market by increasing local production, consolidating local economies and limiting reliance on foreign imports of refined oil products.

The need for clean cooking to mitigate the effects of pollution.

Production of biofuels would also have another huge impact, and this is in the clean cooking sector. We have all been shocked by the mortality rates we are seeing across the world with the COVID pandemic and every loss of life is a tragedy. However annually over 3m people die from respiratory diseases caused directly by pollution at home. As of 17th May 2020, the COVID registered death rate stands at 313,940 (John Hopkins University) in the same time period from January to April the mortality rate from cooking related pollution would have been over 700,000. The use of firewood, kerosine , charcoal and animal dung as primary fuels is Africa’s silent killer with 50% of these deaths being women and children under the age 5. The image of an African woman by a wood fire is somewhat nostalgic but we have never sat to consider the true impacts of that image.

Brave Woman cooking somewhere in Africa - Biofuels: a versatile power OPTION to accelerate energy transition in post-Covid Africa
Figure 2 – African woman cooking for her family.

This now takes on added importance with COVID-19 attacking the respiratory system more aggressively; we could see an unprecedented surge in these deaths on the continent and in the developing world. The solutions to solve this problem are well established and ready at scale we just need to implement them. Stove technology is well mature and affordable, fuel production is ready and cost competitive and the distribution networks are easily established. Production of biofuels and assembly of stoves has wider reaching social impacts that will stimulate economies of scale domestically , will empower local entrepreneurship especially amongst women , significantly reduce deforestation and ultimately reduce emissions.

Sustainable production of biofuels as a ready-made solution

In conclusion I feel we must take this opportunity to refocus, identify what are the most practical solutions that will not only serve to stabilise our economies  but will accelerate development , climate awareness and provide clean energy access. Sustainable production of biofuels is a ready-made solution that has plenty more upsides and as with every solution there is downside risk, but these risks can be well mitigated through well planned projects and technology choices. We now find ourselves in a world rapidly scalable solutions are desperately needed , we can no longer afford to passively sit around speaking about our ‘development agenda and not implementing it’ the African development agenda is well known , well-rehearsed for some and has yet to deliver the impacts intended to realise our long overstated ‘potential’. There are many  technological solutions readily available and not just biofuels we must trust the developers and entrepreneurs and support them as they strive to lead from within to provide the solutions that will lead to a harmonised more Africa-centric development environment. Yes the capital flows and deals come from outside the continent but these are still very focused on the commercial viability of a business and with a new Africa-centric lens we can ensure that the positive impacts of solutions  are enjoyed by all stake holders and not just investors and developers. The true nature of a successful business is its impact on the end user, the last mile customer, if his life is impacted for the better in a sustainable and permanent way then that particular solution has proved a success. Let us strive to emerge from this crisis more informed, better equipped and galvanised to change the Africa narrative, on climate, energy and COVID-19.

Author

Marvin Tabi is the CEO Of WESAF ENERGY SOLUTIONS LTD which he founded in 2015 in the UK and in Cameroon. Marvin has an academic background in oil and gas and has always been passionate about renewable energy and its ability to transform the world’s poorest regions. He is doing just this through WESAF Energy and wants to use biofuels specifically to be a catalyst for sustainable development and climate action among indigenous communities.  Marvin sees power production as a driving force to ale poverty and introduce climate-focused economic growth in Cameroon and Beyond.

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