Eskom plans its first biomass plant 50%


CityPress - - Business - SIZWE SAMA YENDE busi­ness@city­

Power util­ity Eskom is plan­ning to build its first biomass plant in Mpumalanga in its en­deav­our to re­duce its car­bon emis­sions that con­trib­ute more than 50% of the coun­try’s to­tal green­house gasses.

The plan­ning of the project – which Eskom will un­der­take with the SA Forestry Com­pany Lim­ited (Saf­col) and the In­dus­trial De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (IDC) – is at an ad­vanced stage.

Eskom will de­velop the IDC’s Ze­brapel­lets in Sa­bie into a tor­refied pel­let plant.

This is where wood pro­duced in Saf­col’s forests will be tor­refied – mean­ing it will be heated with­out oxy­gen, break­ing its fi­brous struc­ture and re­mov­ing mois­ture and some volatiles to give it coal-like prop­er­ties.

The pel­lets will then be trans­ported to Arnot Power Sta­tion to be used to gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity.

The woody pel­lets will be burnt to­gether with coal – a process called biomass co-fir­ing.

The plant is ex­pected to pro­duce about 80 000 tons of pel­lets per an­num.

Eskom’s pro­duc­tion en­gi­neer­ing in­te­gra­tion coal se­nior man­ager, Yokesh Singh, said that, un­like wind and so­lar, this will be a base load and high-ca­pac­ity plant.

“You can use the pel­lets only but, in the con­text of Eskom, you will need a lot of biomass. So, it makes a lot of sense that we use coal as well. Biomass is more reli­able than wind and so­lar en­ergy,” Singh said.

“This project will re­duce the car­bon emis­sions, as we will not be us­ing much coal,” he added. The project comes at a time when en­vi­ron­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions have upped their ante to fight the es­tab­lish­ment of more coal-pow­ered sta­tions in the coun­try.

A few weeks ago, Earth­life Africa took En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Edna Molewa to court for giv­ing an en­vi­ron­men­tal au­tho­ri­sa­tion for the es­tab­lish­ment of the 1 200 megawatt Thabametsi power sta­tion in Lepha­lale, Lim­popo, with­out a cli­mate change assess­ment hav­ing been done.

Thabametsi and Khany­isa (based in Mpumalanga) won the first bid win­dow to build South Africa’s first in­de­pen­dent coal­fired power sta­tions last Oc­to­ber, un­der the coal In­de­pen­dent Power Pro­duc­ers pro­gramme, which is the first base load en­ergy pro­gramme that al­lows the pri­vate sec­tor to pro­vide coal-gen­er­ated en­ergy.

The North Gaut­eng High Court or­dered Molewa to con­sider a cli­mate im­pact assess­ment re­port, a pa­le­on­to­log­i­cal re­port and com­ments on these re­ports from in­ter­ested and af­fected par­ties be­fore grant­ing an en­vi­ron­men­tal au­tho­ri­sa­tion for the power sta­tion.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists are lob­by­ing hard for gov­ern­ment to ditch coal power sta­tions in favour of green en­ergy al­ter­na­tives.

Wind and so­lar en­ergy, though favourable al­ter­na­tives from the per­spec­tive of en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, are prov­ing to be a headache in South Aus­tralia where wind en­ergy is used on a large scale.

The area is af­fected by load shed­ding when there is low wind and a heat wave – cost­ing busi­nesses some in­come.

Singh said that other ad­van­tages of the Mpumalanga biomass plant are that it would pro­vide ac­cess to elec­tric­ity in ru­ral ar­eas and in­crease the num­ber of jobs in the forestry in­dus­try, while cre­at­ing new ones in the biomass pro­cess­ing plant.

Singh said that de­tails about the costs of mod­i­fy­ing the Ze­brapel­let plant and the num­ber of job op­por­tu­ni­ties to be cre­ated had not yet been de­ter­mined.

Singh said that Eskom had ac­quired a tech­nol­ogy li­cence agree­ment from Dutch com­pany, Black­wood Tech­nol­ogy BV, that has agreed to do a demo plant en­gi­neer­ing study.

An­other con­cern for en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists in Mpumalanga’s Highveld re­gion, where 80% of South Africa’s elec­tric­ity is gen­er­ated from coal, has been sick­nesses due to ex­po­sure to pol­luted air.

Peo­ple liv­ing near power sta­tions suf­fer from asthma, em­phy­sema and lung can­cer, heart pal­pi­ta­tions and heart at­tacks, and strokes.

Re­search done by ground­Work and Friends of the Earth In­ter­na­tional found that 2 200 deaths in South Africa were caused by ex­po­sure to pol­luted air from Eskom’s coalpow­ered elec­tric­ity sta­tions.

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