SA Team Turns Garbage into Fuel

Wits University and the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa), have developed novel technology to turn biomass (agricultural waste) and garbage (solid municipal waste) into liquid fuel, electricity, waxes and paraffin. It is the first time that this innovative project, developed in South Africa by South Africans, has been manufactured on a small-scale to make it economical for South Africa and other developing countries.

The BeauTi-FueL TM Project, an environmentally-friendly plant small enough to fit into a standard 40 ft container on the back of a truck, was launched today, Monday, 21 November 2011 and will be driven down to Durban on the 25 th of November to be showcased at COP17.

“The plant aims to uplift and make small communities more self-sufficient in terms of energy, without compromising on potential food sources. Such a process is sufficiently simple thus it can be easily operated with relatively low risk. The plant will aim to turn one ton of biomass into one barrel of diesel and 0.5MWh of electricity per day,” explains Prof. Diane Hildebrandt, Co-Director of the Centre of Material and Process Synthesis in the Wits School of Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering. “It is intended that when implemented, this economical project will have a very strong job creation aspect in terms of growing the agricultural material, collecting and sorting Municipal Solid Waste and supplying fuel and electricity to small municipalities, rural areas and small farming areas.”

A full-scale plant will treat 91,000 ton per annum of municipal waste, which will produce enough power for 10,000 homes, enough heat for around 700 homes, increase recycling rates by over 20% and will create about 200 jobs, mainly for unskilled workers. The Project has a negative carbon footprint and the lowest environmental impact.

“In the long run we would hope to use the very clean carbon dioxide produced by the process to grow algae that could be harvested and fed back to the plant or used to feed fish. This will be labour intensive and could create even more work for unskilled people, as well as possibly providing protein from the fish for consumption purposes,” adds Hildebrandt.

“The superior conversion efficiency of the plasma gasifier and the ease with which the process gas could be manipulated to optimise the fuel production, combined with the resultant fuel gas generating electricity, renders this a sought after system for anyone who generates waste,” says Dr Jaco van der Walt, the Plasma Scientist from Necsa.

The R5-million pilot plant will be demonstrated at COP17 and a functional prototype will be built by mid-2012, which will be showcased at different public events and locations around the country. During this period, the technology will be refined and the facility will be demonstrated to potential clients.

Story and image: WITS newsroom November 2011