Opportunities and Challenges of Biogas in South Africa

30 Oct 2023

Energy is vital for agricultural supply chains, powering activities like chick rearing, temperature control, and irrigation. However, Southern Africa grapples with energy security issues, largely tied to fossil fuels. To address this, renewable energy, particularly solar and biogas, is seen as an eco- friendly alternative, reducing carbon emissions. Biogas, besides producing clean energy, yields nutrient-rich digestate used as organic fertilizer, crucial for food security. Despite its potential, biogas adoption is slow due to market development challenges, limited technical expertise, and a lack of strategy. Efforts are underway to promote biogas adoption and support agricultural value chain development in South Africa.

To overcome the challenge, AFAP (represented by Njabulo Mazibuko, Acting AFAP Country Manager, South Africa, and Thabo Gcwabaza, AFAP Innovation and Technology Manager) and other biogas technology stakeholders conducted a study tour to Denmark, where the biogas market is advanced. The South African biogas stakeholders included the Southern Africa Biogas Association (SABIA), South African cane growers’ representatives, project developers, policymakers, biogas technology consultants, environmental consultants, and beef entrepreneurs.

The purpose of the visit was to improve the understanding of the role of biogas technology in a country’s economy and to explore available technologies including their applications, policy and

regulatory environment requirements, possible market-based incentive mechanisms, strengths, and limitations.

During the study tour, the delegates met and interacted with crucial and diverse value chain actors, including the Danish Environmental Protection Agency, the Denmark Biogas Association, several biogas enterprises, and Aarhus University. The University provides research and development services to the biogas industry.

Some of the lessons drawn from the exercise are:

-Denmark has a well-developed biogas industry. There is also a state-of-the-art biogas technology, including power to X (PtX) technologies and biomethane/fuel used in the transport industry.

-In establishing biogas digesters, some factors are techno-assessment, water availability, and high-quality and quantity feedstock availability.

-South Africa, like Denmark, has a strong agro-industry which can support and, in turn, be supported by biogas production.

-Contrary to Denmark, South Africa, due to its sub-tropical climate, is well endowed with feedstock, especially grass straw.

-The South Africa delegation was exposed to different biogas feedstock, including waste wastewater treatment and straw. Their potential and limitations of each were then evaluated.

-One of the most significant challenges of using biogas technology is its high initial investment costs. State’s interventions through policy are thus imperative to accelerate adoption, strengthening capacity building and skills transfer.

“We should place emphasis on biogas technology in order to enhance agricultural value chains, rural development, and the creation of employment opportunities. This will enable us to offer clean energy and organic fertilizers, as well as gain carbon credits. All these factors will have a positive impact on Agri-SMEs, ensuring reliable energy supply and access to organic fertilizers in the final stages of the agricultural value chain, ultimately bolstering their resilience,” says Njabulo Mazibuko.