- Written by Anna Strom
As the researchers acknowledge in an application for funds to the Swedish Research Council Formas, which has now been granted, almost one fifth of the world population still lacks access to electricity, according to the International Energy Agency. Moreover, indoor air pollution caused by biomass burning for cooking and heating either using poor appliances or simply building a fire indoors cause about two million deaths per year in Southeast Asia and Africa.
While great strides have been made by high-profile initiatives such as the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, "many uncertainties still exist regarding the performance of different cooking solutions… [and] emissions from these systems and the relation to air pollution and health effects need to be better elucidated", according to the project application.
What the Sweden-based researchers have proposed is to map the availability, types and characteristics of locally-sourced biomass; develop a modern clean-burning cookstove suitable for individual households and asses the conditions for setting up medium-sized electricity production facilities based on biomass gasification. In addition, a pilot study involving 40 individual farming households in Kenya will test an agroforestry solution in which the farmers are to alternate the production of food crops and energy crops for the purpose of improving soil fertility and, ultimately, increase agricultural yields. The intention is for the energy crops to be used to fuel the proposed power production facilities, which would be set up on a per-community basis.
The technology for these facilities would be based on a "new innovative design based on downdraft gasification" of biomass and developed by Bio4Energy researcher at Umeå University (UmU).
"The idea is to use local residual products and raw materials, and use a small part of them for refinement to fuel which can be used in local electricity production, since there is no electricity grid [that covers the entire countryside]. There will be one local factory using simple gasification technology", said Boman, who is an associate professor at UmU and a member of the Bio4Energy Environmental Platform.
Finally, the SEI in cooperation with Kenyan actors will conclude the exercise by holding a workshop with local "users, producers, decision-makers, planners and investors", whose results will feed into a feasibility study aimed at assessing the potential for implementation of the technology, including "institutional, economic and social barriers to uptake", according to the project description.
"Deforestation is a big problem in Sub-Saharan Africa. The biomass is used very inefficiently which means a lot must be taken out. The [way in which it is being used] causes enormous health problems and air pollution", Boman said.
"The fundamental research in Bio4Energy on biomass gasification, ash chemistry, particulate emissions and behaviour of nutrients like phosphorous is of great importance and may be directly applied in this project. This a good example of where the knowledge we build can come to use", he added.