Namibia Economist (Windhoek)

18 January 2013

Namibia: Unam Looks At Micro-Algae to Provide Combined Heat and Power

The University of Namibia Sam Nujoma Marine and Coastal Resources Research Centre in Henties Bay is collaborating on a project with the European Union and two other African universities to help reduce the level of carbon dioxide emisssions in the atmosphere.

The project, funded under the ACP Science and Technology programme by the European Union, is a three year initiative which started in 2010 and comes to an end in December this year. Its main objective is to build sustainable, non-food renewable bio-oil supply chain for providing Combined Heat & Power (CHP) electric generators and, in the future, the chemical feedstock needed to replace fossil fuels.

According to Professor Edosa Omoregie, Director and researcher at the Henties Bay UNAM campus, One of the objectives of the project is to assess the state-of-the-art bio-oil supply chains which are currently in place in the ACP partner countries and further to assess partner country ability to respond to the new technologies which are emerging from Europe in the bio-fuels sector, with special focus on Jatropha, micro-algae and biogas.

"The programme team is particularly interested in the potential of micro-algae, which thrive in the seas of Namibia, as well as biogas from the anaerobic digestion of agricultural by-products and food wastes, and pure Jatropha oil from the Jatropha curcas plant, which can be used directly to power CHP generators," said Omoregie.

Omoregie explains that African countries hold the potential to produce biofuels at a far greater rate than Europe by virtue of land availability and favourable climatic conditions. "In Namibia, halophytic algae have been identified from the very prevalent highly saline salt pans, and a preliminary characterisation of the glycerol-producing species Dunaliella and Asteromonas has been undertaken," he said.

According to Omoregie, the project is now only focusing on the use of micro-algae. " This is due to the controversies surrounding the cultivation of Jatropha and its detrimental effects on the environment. Initial research done on the cultivation of Dunaliella and Asteromonas by the project research partners indicated the potential for large-scale cultivation of this micro-algae for bio-fuel production."

Two key projects were identified and developed at a workshop held at UNAM's Research Centre in Henties Bay in 2010.The first involved the development of micro-algae (Dunaliella spp) harvesting from local salt pans as a potential fuel source for CHP engines in Namibia. The second involved the cultivating of the "diesel oil plant" Jatropha as green (live) fences for livestock and other agricultural products in the rural areas, and from which the nuts can be collected and used as a source of biofuel oil for CHP engines. Meetings were held with potential Namibian partners in the Dunaliella project.

A research programme aimed at cultivating halophytic micro-algae has been initiated at the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources and a Namibian-based company is in the process of being established to take advantage of the highly-prevalent saline waters and cultivate naturally-abundant microalgae for glycerol. If successful this will mark an important landmark in global progress to establish the necessary environmentally-sustainable bio-refineries of the future.

Omoregie informed the Economist that another workshop to review the success achieved in the project is being planned later this year. "In addition, UNAM is currently involved in the development of Business Support Training in the biotechnology xector of non-food bio-oil."

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