Biomass: Meeting Sub Saharan Africa's Energy Needs

December 22, 2010

  • The World Bank is taking steps to bring biomass energy into its future lending portfolio
  • A workshop in Nairobi in December launched the Biomass Energy Initiative for Africa (BEIA)
  • BEIA supports pilot programs in Senegal, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania and will soon add three more

ACCRA, December 22, 2010—In the remote village of Naro Moru in the foothills of Mount Kenya, 200 km away from Nairobi, a quiet but significant transformation is taking place. Croton,a native tree once perceived to be of little economic value, is contributing to Kenya’s bio-diesel production.

The tree, known scientifically as Croton Megalocapus, is among other indigenous trees—castor and cape chestnut among them—that bear inedible seeds, but when pressed, produce bio-diesel, a type of bio-mass fuel.

Kenya’s Help Self Help Centre (HSHC), a non-governmental organization that partners with the World Bank’s Africa Energy Unit (AFTEG), is behind the production and is making significant strides in organizing the process of producing bio-diesel at the farmer level and seeing it through to purchase by consumers.

“HSHC is organizing farmers and seed collectors, many of them women, to deliver bio-diesel to collection centers, where it is prepared for sale,” said World Bank Senior Energy Specialist Waqar Haider.  “At the centers, manual and machine de-husking is done and the seeds are washed before being used as feed for bio-diesel production.”

According to Haider, the bio-diesel is then sold to customers at a competitive price.

Experts expect this process to help double Naro Moru’s bio-diesel production from the current 400 liters to 800 by 2012, expanding the market for local producers and consumers.

Eighty percent of Africans rely on biomass

Biomass energy is especially relevant for Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) where over 80 percent of the population relies upon wood, crop and animal residues for meeting their household needs (mainly cooking).  Not withstanding extensive plans for electrification and provision of fossil fuels, a vast majority of households in SSA will still depend on biomass resources for their energy needs for at least the next two decades.

Conscious of this dependence, the World Bank in 2010 launched the Biomass Energy Initiative for Africa (BEIA). This, and eight other local initiatives, is funded under the Africa Renewable Energy Access Program (AFREA) supported by a US$28.75 million contribution from the Netherlands in 2008 under the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program’s (ESMAP) Clean Energy Investment Framework (CEIF) Multi-donor Trust Fund.

The Biomass Initiative focuses on five thematic areas,

  • creating the enabling market conditions for high quality and high performance modern cooking stoves;
  • modernizing the charcoal industry;
  • demonstrating the feasibility of social biofuels;
  • increasing power capacity with bioelectricity; and
  • capacity building and strengthening leadership in biomass energy.

Nairobi workshop to launch BEIA

To launch the BEIA program, a four-day workshop in Nairobi was held from December 1-4, 2010 and brought together practitioners from nine countries engaged in the development of biomass resources, or in the improvement of consumption efficiency of end-use devices.

Together with World Bank professionals, and experts from the private sector, options and strategies were discussed to implement a number of pilot projects in Sub Saharan Africa. Participants also learned about World Bank safeguard policies and fiduciary processes to ensure environmental and socially robust projects with complete transparency.  Strategies for gender empowerment through biomass development were also explored.

The World Bank’s Africa Energy Unit is already implementing a number of biomass projects in Senegal, Ethiopia and Tanzania, according to World Bank Sector Manager, Subramaniam V. Iyer,

“The Senegal project demonstrates sustainably-managed and socially-progressive wood fuel energy supply systems, whereas use of efficient cook-stoves can make a major impact on the energy demand, as they did in Ethiopia,” Iyer said.

At a recent Biomass energy meeting at the World Bank, the Bank’s Director for Sustainable Development in the Africa Region, Jamal Saghir, said partners now need to foster mainstreaming of biomass into national economic policies.

“The development of biomass energy is closely linked with forestry, agriculture, indoor air pollution and health, environment and climate change, rural electrification, and gender development,” he said. “And all these linkages have to be explicitly recognized and harmonized to have a unified sustainable approach.”