JOHANNESBURG–A team of researchers from South Africa’s Wits University recently unveiled a compact biomass power plant that produces electricity and an unrefined synthetic fuel. The group plans to use the design to bring cheap power to the large portions of the country who now live without it. It is hoped that this modular model could be used throughout the developing world.
The team members, who hail from the university’s Centre of Materials and Process Synthesis (Comps) and the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa), have dubbed their new power station BeauTi-Fuel. Housed in a standard 40ft container, the plant converts agricultural waste and sewage into fuel, electricity and paraffin (ubiquitous in South Africa’s townships). Designing BeauTi-Fuel to be placed inside of a container serves two purposes–it keeps costs down by building around a frame that’s widely available and, more importantly, it makes the whole system portable. BeauTi-Fuel can be thrown on the back of any truck and driven to where it’s needed, bypassing the traditional power infrastructure that’s slow and expensive to build.
BeauTi-Fuel project head and Wits University professor Diane Hildebrandt said the plant could help make small South African communities more self-sufficient.
The university has so far invested $613,000 in the project, which was launched earlier this month at COP17 in Durban. When fully operational, the plant will be able to convert a ton of biomass into a barrel of diesel fuel and 500KWh of electricity everyday.
University spokesperson Vivienne Rowland said a full-size prototype will be built early next year and tour the country, illustrating the potential of portable biomass in southern Africa.
There are plans to use these prototypes as the foundation for a much larger, South African designed biomass plant in the future. The plant would use 91,000 tons of waste to power 10,000 homes a year.