Harnessing Nigeria’s Biofuel, Bioenergy Potentials In Sugar Industry

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A cross section of stakeholders at the validation workshop in Lagos.

The world is constantly exploring options to stimulate economic growth and development which, to a large extent, depends on the extent of development in the energy sector.

With climate change, this process has become more compelling with the dynamisms introduced. These introductions have necessitated the discovery of clean energy, birthed global initiatives like the Paris Agreement, Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All), United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Circular Economy etc.

Some of the clean energy sources are solar, biomass, small hydro and wind. The objective is to move away from fossil fuel-based energy sources and embrace options that do not contribute to the emission of green house gases. It is proven that one of the key ingredients to achieving a buoyant and successful economy is an adequate energy supply. Without it, nations will suffer an industrialisation deficit.

In Nigeria today, about 85 million people – 43 per cent of the Nigerian population – lack access to power from the grid. This development practically limits the economic potential of the country. The good thing is that there are options to address this national issue.

Speaking during the stakeholders’ validation workshop on the assessment of biofuel and bioenergy potentials in the sugar industry in Nigeria held in Lagos, the representative to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and regional director, Nigeria Regional Office Hub, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Mr. Jean Bakole, said the sugar industry, which has been proven in countries like Thailand and India, also gives an option to contribute to addressing the problem of energy deficit in Nigeria.

Represented by UNIDO’s national programme officer, Mr. Reuben Bamidele, Bakole emphasized that Nigeria needs to use what she has to get what she wants.

The envoy said the UNIDO has been implementing a project titled ‘mini-grids based on renewable energy (biomass) to augment rural electrification’, to promote renewable energy as an alternative to diesel-based energy generation systems.

According to him, this is to help reduce and avoid GHG emissions from the energy sector in Nigeria.

He averred that the project, through its four components, should develop policies centred around creating a conducive market environment, particularly by strengthening financial facilities and building capacity to replicate renewable energy mini-grids for augmenting rural electrification and productive uses in Nigeria.

Bakole further said under this project being financed by the Global Environment Facility, UNIDO has collaborated with the National Sugar Development Council (NSDC) and Energy Commission of Nigeria (ECN) to conduct assessments on bioenergy from the sugar industry and biofuels for clean cooking.

“It is important for me to mention that UNIDO is a specialized agency of the United Nations which promotes inclusive and sustainable industrialisation in developing countries and economies in transition. UNIDO’s activities are tailored towards developing green industries that are resource-efficient and protective of the natural environment and human health. Through its activities, UNIDO strives to improve competitiveness and access to markets, in tandem with improving their environmental performance.

“We are presently implementing the Nigeria Country Programme which runs from 2018 to 2022, with Renewable Energy Development and Environmental Management as two stand-alone components out of its nine components. UNIDO is well-positioned to support countries in identifying and addressing emerging energy and environmental issues and we will continue to do this in Nigeria with the support of all of you,” he added.

In his remarks, the director-general, ECN, Prof. Eli Bala, pointed out that Nigeria is blessed with abundant energy resources (fossils and renewables) that can be easily exploited and transformed into electricity, fuels and heat.

The irony, according to him, is that only about 40 per cent of the population of this same resource-rich country has access to electricity, with the proportion of electricity access even much lower in rural areas.

“For decades, efforts towards addressing this ugly situation had been on fossil fuels without much success. Today, we are here because we strongly believe in the diversification of the nation’s energy supply mix to include all energy resources in their right proportion for sustainable development. This can be achieved by generating electricity within the load centres using energy resources available to them. It is, therefore, commendable that the UNIDO is investigating the potential of generating electricity from agro-wastes,” he noted.

The ECN boss asserted that the nearest energy source after solar radiation is biomass. He stressed that Nigeria’s biomass energy resources have been estimated to be 83 million tonnes of crop residues/year and 61 million tonnes of animal waste/year.

He noted that, presently, in most agro-industries, these wastes are either dumped or burnt. Through these detailed biomass resource assessments, potential sites are identified for the replication of biomass-based mini-grids throughout the country. 

Represented by the commission’s director of linkages and consultancy, Engr. Okon Ekpenyong, Bala, who underscored the importance of the validation workshop, said the assignment will help Nigeria demonstrate the viability of biomass-based mini-grids by establishing biomass mini-grid projects; promote private sector investments in renewable energy technologies in the form of small biomass-based mini-grid as a viable option for augmenting the rural electrification programme in Nigeria; and strengthen the policy, regulatory and institutional framework for biomass and other renewable energy-based mini-grid systems in Nigeria.

Earlier in his goodwill message, the group managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Mallam Mele Kyari, said the sugarcane industry is unique because it has a self-sufficient process as regards energy requirements.

He described the sheer amount of biomass produced via sugarcane farming as an enormous, ready and sustainable source of energy.

Kyari elucidated that bioelectricity is clean and renewable energy made from sugarcane biomass, which could be used as an alternative to fossil electricity and as a supplement to hydropower; at the same time, fuel-ethanol from cane juice fermentation is a suitable alternative to gasoline.

According to him, Nigeria has a great potential to develop this all-inclusive sugarcane-energy industry, since the conditions – suitable agro-climatic factors, high photo-intensity in most parts of the country, vibrant labour force and a very large market for food and energy.

Represented by the NNPC group executive director, Dr. Billy Okoye, Kyari maintained that the development of the sugarcane-energy industry in Nigeria will largely be influenced “firstly, by increasing efficiency in smart agricultural practices; focusing on land optimisation by increasing productivity per hectare; with continuous improvement in the right strain of cultivars to ensure all-round planting year activities. Secondly, the deployment of emerging technologies that are climate-compliant in processing sugarcane into fuel, food, feed, energy and fertilizer; and further harnessing bagasse, vinasse, and sugarcane straw into commercial by-products,” he said.

Having advanced this position and without equivocation, Kyari asserted that oil and gas will be a part of the energy mix through 2050 – coupled with ambitious efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in line with the Paris Agreement.

“It is, therefore, crucial to make oil and gas exploitation more environment-friendly by minimising air pollution and release of particulate matter from tail-gas, including short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) by blending petro-fuels with biofuels.

“Finally, while renewable electricity from solar and wind sources may power vehicles in the cities, it is liquid biofuels from the sugarcane industry that will be the panacea for extending commuting to the rural communities in the next decades.

“It is, therefore, my pleasure to affirm that the National Sugar Council of Nigeria has, over the years, assiduously sought the advancement of the sugarcane-energy industry in Nigeria. Though the success of these efforts has been limited, it is hoped that this validation workshop will deliver on purpose,” he added.

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