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Lighting up Mauritius with sugarcane

A win for renewable energy in Africa.

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Far out into the Indian Ocean where it is forced to be self-reliant, the island nation of Mauritius is weaning itself off fossil fuels by turning to its main cash-crop sugar cane, for electricity.

The leftover, crushed sugar cane stalks and tips — dry fibrous material known as “bagasse” — is burned to help power Mauritius and reduce its reliance on coal and oil.

Electricity from sugar cane now accounts for 14 percent of the island’s needs and, when combined with other renewable sources such as solar, wind and hydro, provides nearly a quarter of daily consumption.

“The government’s goal is to increase the share of renewable energy in the energy mix to 35 percent by 2025,” said deputy prime minister Ivan Collendavelloo who is also energy minister.

“The 35 percent is not far off; we will have 11 solar parks by next year and at least two wind farms,” he said. 

“Independent producers in the sugar industry will continue to provide the largest share of renewable electricity from bagasse,” he added.

In Mauritius, around 60 percent of the island’s electricity is generated by four sugar companies, each running its own thermal power station.

The plants run on coal for part of the year then switch to sugar cane byproducts when harvest season comes.

At the end of November, the harvest is in full swing in the fields surrounding the Omnicane company, in the south of the island.

Heavy trucks pulling huge trailers are lined up next to an immense warehouse to unload their cargo of fresh-cut sugarcane. During the harvest, 8,500 tonnes are sent daily to this facility — a total of around 900,000 tonnes for the year.

The cane stalks are crushed to extract juice for sugar production. They are then soaked to extract the last juice and then heated to dry.

Finally, squashed and dried, the stalks are fed into a thermal power station where they burn at 500 degrees Celsius, fuelling turbines that produce electricity for the plant and the national grid.

“Electricity is available 24 hours a day, on demand, without having to wait for the wind or the sun, since we can store bagasse as we would oil and coal,” said Jacques D’Unienville, Omnicane’s manager.

And the carbon dioxide greenhouse gas produced by the burning? It is captured, according to D’Unienville, and used to add the fizz to soft drinks.

However there are clouds on the horizon in the form of a drop in sugar prices since the European Union ended quotas in 2017, and increases in production in Thailand, Brazil and India, which together have put pressure on the island’s farmers.

Jacqueline Sauzier, secretary general of the Mauritius Chamber of Agriculture said falling sugar prices were “a fatal blow to the local sugar industry.”

“The number of small farmers has fallen from 26,000 in 2010 to 13,000 in 2018,” said Agriculture Minister Mahen Kumar Seeruttun.

The question is whether Mauritius will be able to produce enough sugar cane to meet its target for renewable, bagasse-based electricity.

Some sugar producers are hoping that preferential treatment might provide an answer.

“Mauritius is a small, vulnerable island. We do not have the capacity of Thailand, Brazil and India, but we are an efficient producer because we value the entire sugar production chain,” said D’Unienville.

“We need protected access to preferential markets. Small countries should have quotas as a priority because we are very vulnerable,” he said.

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East Africa News & Stories

Internet blackout hits cities in Ethiopia

An investigation found that with the exception of the capital Addis Ababa, most of the country’s cities had no internet.

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Internet blackout hits cities in Ethiopia

Most of Ethiopia was without internet access on Tuesday on the eighth consecutive day of an unexplained break.

An investigation found that with the exception of the capital Addis Ababa, most of the country’s cities had no internet.

Cherer Aklilu, executive director of the state monopoly Ethio Telecom, declined to give any details to explain the break.

“We expect to release an official statement on the internet blackout before the end of this week and we urge our users to be patient until that time,” she told AFP.

Internet access was cut on June 11, briefly restored and then severed again. It was restored for the Addis area on Friday.

The cut is the longest since reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to office in April last year in the Horn of Africa country.

The current break coincides with annual school-leaving exams, which end on Friday. In 2017, the authorities defended a similar blackout by saying they wanted to limit cheating for the important tests.

However, the internet was also repeatedly cut between 2015 and 2017 when the government at the time faced waves of protests.

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Africa News & Updates

Morocco’s sale of 8% stake in Maroc Telecom to inject $920 million into state budget

52.74 million shares, priced at 127 dirhams will be sold as a block order to local institutional investors

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MAROC TELECOM STORE | Maroc Telecom has been sold by the Moroccan government

Morocco says it plans to sell off an 8 percent stake in Maroc Telecom, which will lead to an 8.87 billion dirham boost towards financing the country’s budget. This privatisation programme is aimed at improving state financing according to the Morocco capital market regulator, AMMC.

Another 6 percent stake in the company comprising of 52.74 million shares, priced at 127 dirhams will be sold as a block order to local institutional investors such as retirement funds, insurance companies and banks on June 17, according to the prospectus.

Related: Digital colonialism: The price Africa pays for cheap internet

The remaining 2 percent will be sold on the Casablanca stock exchange in a public offering at a share price of 125 dirhams starting on June 26 and closing on July 5 2019.

The 2 percent stake also includes 2.9 million shares, representing 0.3% of Maroc Telecom’s capital, to be sold to the company’s employees at a share price of 117.7 dirhams, the prospectus showed.

The sale will cut the state’s stake in the company to 22% from the current 30%. Maroc Telecom is listed on both the Casablanca stock exchange and the Euronext exchange in Paris.

Related: Formula One in talks to make African comeback

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East Africa News & Stories

An app is helping reunite South Sudan’s ‘lost’ children with their families

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south sudan
Young South Sudanese refugees are transported from the border of South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to a refugee settlement site

A new app launched in South Sudan on Friday aims to help aid workers reunite thousands of children with their families after they became separated during a five-year war and identify other vulnerable children.

The app was developed by the United Nations children’s agency (UNICEF) and the charity Save the Children to allow the hundreds of field workers tracing families in South Sudan to share information on their phones or tablets.

“Case workers are the backbone of everything we do. They walk for hours and hours under the scorching sun, wade through mud, travel for days on bumpy dirt roads to knock on doors,” said Rama Hansraj, head of Save the Children in South Sudan.

“They are in every corner of South Sudan, yet until now have found it difficult to communicate with other case workers on the other side of the country. With this new app, we’re bringing their work into the 21st century.”

South Suda has been ravaged by civil war since 2013 after clashes erupted between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar.

The government signed a peace agreement with rebels in September, but the war has had a devastating impact. At least 50,000 people have been killed and one in three South Sudanese have been uprooted from their homes.

Children have borne the brunt of the violence, said aid workers, with more than 19,000 registered as missing, unaccompanied or separated from their families.

While more than 6,000 children have been reunited with their families, thousands are still living with temporary foster families or in care centres.

Many were abducted by armed factions to be used as child soldiers, informants or porters. Others were separated from their parents after an attack on their villages.

Some separated children are also migrants from poor families forced to look for work, or runaways who were facing physical or sexual abuse at home, said aid workers.

Child protection case workers – who come from various charities as well as the government – will now be able to directly input data on separated children into the app so that other field workers can easily access it.

The app is connected to a database featuring children’s pictures and biodata, as well as details on circumstances leading to separation and where their family used to live.

“The app will be vital in a poorly connected South Sudan. It can be synced before the case worker heads out and allows them to access the necessary files while in remote areas,” said Helene Sandbu Ryeng from UNICEF in South Sudan.

The app has photo and sound features, which is crucial – especially when parents and their children have been separated for years, which is often the case in South Sudan, added Ryeng.

It will also help identify minors who need help such as counselling for trauma.

Field workers will be able to input data on their apps, according a level of priority so that it can be quickly followed up by child protection teams based in their offices.

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