New technology to generate electricity from cocoa pod husks is set to benefit African farming communities with little or no access to power.
A project led by the University of Nottingham in the UK aims to create a new biofuel industry that would also improve socio-economic stability for cocoa producers in rural Ghana.
“Ghana is the second largest producer of cocoa in the world and every ton of cocoa beans harvested generates 10 tons of cocoa pod husks. In the past, this waste material was underutilized,” explained principal investigator Jo Darkwa, Professor of Energy Storage Technologies in the Faculty of Engineering.
“However, feasibility studies indicate that cocoa pod husks could be converted into valuable bio-fuels, a potentially important source of energy for rural areas that have only 15 per cent electricity coverage at present. If successful, this new bio-energy infrastructure would support the Ghanaian government’s aim for universal access to electricity by 2030.”
The Implementation of Bio-Rural Energy Scheme (IBRES) project, backed by the UK government’s Global Challenges Research Fund, aims to makes practical and economic use of the discarded cocoa pod husks.
In addition to energy production and distribution, local jobs would emerge for the collection, transportation, treatment, storage and processing of cocoa waste. A community energy co-operative model could also help the farmers to make money from their new bio-energy source and hence reduce poverty.
The main tasks of the project are to characterise the four different types cocoa pods commonly farmed in six regions of Ghana for their use as bio-fuels and design, build and evaluate a small-scale bio-power electricity generation unit that burns cocoa pod husks in a gasification system. This would include a gasifier, 5kWe diesel generator set, a solar drier and pelletiser. Other key tasks include developing guidelines for setting up full-scale bio-energy schemes and their integration into rural communities, investigating stakeholders’ perceptions of the bio-energy scheme, and developing community co-operatives and governance structures for cocoa-producing regions.
In addition to Professor Darkwa, the Nottingham-led project team involves Dr John Calautit, Dr Mark Worall, Dr Yuehong Su and Nii Nelson of the Buildings, Energy and Environment Research Group; Dr Alison Mohr, from the Institute of Science and Society; Dr Karen Robertson from the Advanced Materials Research Group and the School of Chemistry’s Professor Robert Mokaya.
Nottingham academics are also collaborating with the Centre for Energy, Environment and Sustainable Development in Ghana, Ghana Cocoa Board and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana where the bio-power unit will be installed and monitored by researchers.