Easing the energy crisis: Large-scale biodigester roll-out to save farmers from crippling load-shedding

BY BRIAN ANTHONY HAYWARD - MAY 19, 2015

A landmark agreement between Eastern Cape-based water solutions company, Rhino Water, and Australian renewable energy firm, Quantum Power Ltd, will see some of the largest biodigesters in South Africa – and Africa – rolled out to commercial farmers around the country.

Large-scale piggeries, dairies, dairy factories, abattoirs and cattle feedlots are all key focus industries for Rhino Water following the signing of the agreement with Quantum Power, which will supply the specialist biodigester technology from Australia, and which Rhino will then install and maintain for clients locally.

The roll-out has been hailed by farming organisations including the SA Pork Producers’ Organisation (SAPPO) and the Red Meat Producers’ Organisation (RPO) in the wake of crippling load-shedding by parastatal Eskom.

Farming consultants have also welcomed the move.

“The significance of this is that it would be the first proven system designed for southern hemisphere countries that will enter South Africa,” said farming consultant Izak Smit, adding that similar systems designed in the northern hemisphere were not as well suited to the local climate as Australian-designed and tested systems.

“A well-maintained digester can last over 20 years and will pay for itself in a quarter of that time,” he said. “Biogas technology is highly advanced in many countries, but South Africa is definitely not using its full potential at all yet.”

Rhino Water managing director Sarel Bam said the deal provided a welcome solution to the farming community which was battling with energy supply.

“These enterprises cannot sit without power for long stretches,” said Bam. “Their high energy usage requirements mean generators are unsustainable, whereas they have lots of natural gas available from all the animal waste produced right there on site.”

A biodigester system for a large scale piggery of 30,000 pigs would produce approximately 250 to 300 kilowatt (kW) of continuous power – roughly the same daily power demand of 100-plus average-sized households, he said.

“Our Australian partners have successfully raised AU$75 million through private investors to build, own and operate their biogas digesters. Those investors are happy with the prospects of creating a good return,” said Bam.

General Manager of SAPPO group member, Premier Pork Producers, Jacobus Hoffman, said the most important problem facing farmers was being able to secure an uninterrupted power supply.

“This unsecure supply of energy has forced many pig farmers – who are reliant on electricity – to investigate all alternative means of power supply,” he said.

The deal between Rhino Water and Quantum Power had the potential to reduce energy costs at piggeries over the long term, Hoffman said.

“SAPPO is in favour of off-grid projects and believes, in the long run, these will benefit the industry. The first choice of the industry would be to have a constant and sufficient power supply available every hour of every day of the year.”

RPO chief executive Gerhard Schutte said is was time for farmers to become more self-sustainable wherever possible.

“In the abattoir industry and the rest of the value chain where the maintenance of the cold chain is vital, the consequences of load-shedding is major,” said Schutte. “Any form of self-sufficiency would be a great benefit.”

Further queries about the biodigesters and the commissioning of a project, contact Sarel Bam at [email protected] or Brian van Niekerk at [email protected]