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Biomass pellet cooking in Africa gathers momentum

Biomass pellet cooking in Africa gathers momentum
On May 9, 2024, Ener-G-Africa hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony and seminar to mark the official opening of a new biomass cookstove manufacturing facility in Paarl, South Africa. Andre Moolman (left), CEO, Ener-G-Africa; and Drakenstein Municipality Executive Mayor, Stephen Korabie (photo courtesy Jilda G).

The opening of a new cookstove manufacturing facility by Ener-G-Africa in Paarl, South Africa marks the beginning of a new era for biomass pellet cooking in Africa. The new facility is designed to mass produce various energy-efficient cookstoves, including the acclaimed Fab Stove designed by Dave Lello. The Fab Stove provides high-efficiency combustion cooking by burning biomass pellets. The stove can also operate with a 20W solar panel and a power bank that comes with the unit.

The facility also manufactures the MAFECS (Multi-Application Fuel-Efficient Cooking System) Stove that is compatible with firewood and biomass pellets, the TLC-CQC Rocket Stove, a range of stainless steel cookware referred to as SiZL, and the Eco2Pot, a climate-smart outdoor cooking solution that reduces fuel-usage by up to 20 percent.

The Rocket Stove, an energy-efficient rural cook stove is delivered either fully assembled or in flat-packed parts that can be assembled in any of the twelve African countries where the stove is distributed.

An EGA double Fab stove with a SiZL and Eco2pot (photo courtesy EGA).

According to the company, this concept has several advantages, including reduced shipping costs and import duties, while much-needed local jobs are created through the stove assembly process.

Ener-G-Africa also sells solar systems and plans to open 100 shops for their sustainable energy products in ten African countries within the next two years. These shops will also serve as distribution hubs for biomass pellets.

Ultimately, the company intends to invest in several pellet manufacturing facilities to supply its customers with economic cooking fuel.

Biomass pellets are the best option

Of all clean cooking options; electric cooking, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), biogas, or ethanol cookstoves, biomass pellets offer by far the lowest cooking costs.

This is a decisive advantage in a continent where most of the population comes from low-income communities, and where the scarcity of foreign exchange and devaluating currencies make energy imports even more expensive.

This is all in addition to the fact that the electricity supply in Africa, where available, is unreliable.

Fuelling a FAB stove with biomass pellets (photo courtesy Jilda G).

A recent joint study on the cost of electrifying all households in 40 Sub-Saharan African countries, conducted by ETH Zürich, Princeton University, MIT, and Rwandan researchers, estimated that the total investment costs for electricity supply compatible for cooking (min 800W and 3.4 kWh/day per household) would be US$408 billion (US$428 per person on average).

The average cost for a Western standard wood pellet mill producing 30,000 tonnes per annum (tpa) is around US$6 million, assuming wet raw material.

The annual cooking pellet demand for a household of five is around 500 kg. That means an investment of US$20 per person is needed to create the infrastructure for producing fuel – 20 percent less than what is needed to invest in an electric supply system.

Using pellets for cooking would cost between half and one-tenth of the cost of electricity.

Developing the value chain leads to job creation

Gasifying pellet cookstoves such as the Fab stove, work with a wide variety of raw materials including most agricultural residues such as straw, bagasse, rice husks, or purpose-grown crops such as Miscanthus or Napier grass.

Dr Christian Rakos (left), President, World Bioenergy Association (WBA); Dave Lello, Chief Business Development Officer, Ener-G-Africa; and Andre Moolman, CEO, Ener-G-Africa (photo courtesy Jilda G).

The big advantage compared to imported fuels, besides the lower costs, is the creation of local jobs.

Aside from environmental and health considerations, the current firewood- and charcoal production and trade, have considerable economic relevance and support hundreds of thousands of jobs.

These jobs will be replaced with new ones in the modern clean cooking value chain system.

WBA focus on biomass pellet cooking

Given all these arguments for pellet heating, it seems surprising that this technology has not received more attention in the past.

It would seem that whenever clean cooking is discussed, LPG and electric cooking are the center of attention.

Discussing the socio-economic benefits of developing a biomass pellets clean cooking value chain with moderator Dr Chistian Rakos (left) President, World Bioenergy Association (WBA); Louise Williamson, Project Implementation Manager, Ener-G-Africa; Vanessa Adams, Founder at Fountain of Hope; and Amanda Manyathi, Community and Social Impact Lead at CQuest – Nature-base solutions (photo courtesy Jilda G).

The World Bioenergy Association (WBA) is prioritizing pellet cooking, as most gains for sustainable bioenergy use can be made in this field.

The fact that significant investments are now flowing into this sector is as encouraging as the International Energy Agency (IEA) is actively pushing the replacement of traditional unsustainable bioenergy use towards modern forms of clean cooking.

In partnership with the Clean Cooking Alliance (CCA), the IEA is co-hosting global leaders for a Summit on Clean Cooking in Africa on May 14, 2024, in Paris, France,  to make 2024 a turning point for progress in ensuring clean cooking access for all.

The topic of pellet cooking was hardly been recognized in the past, due to its marginal size to date. However, the potential is huge considering that 3 billion people will need sustainable cooking methods in Africa by 2050. Even with a limited share of 30 percent in cooking markets, this will translate into a pellet demand of 100 million tonnes, almost twice as much as the current global pellet production, commented Dr Christian Rakos, President of the World Bioenergy Association (WBA) and moderator at the seminar held in conjunction with the opening ceremony.

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