Poor people in developing countries have very few options for gaining access to modern energy services, most notably electricity. Renewables like solar, wind and hydropower are way too expensive, intermittent and require outside expertise, whereas fossil fuel based power plants are non-renewable and often centralised to pass ruralites by. That leaves smart bioenergy systems. No wonder then that biomass power projects are winning some of the world's most coveted awards dealing with bringing clean energy to poor people in developing countries. Bioenergy reigned supreme at this year's Tech Awards, which saw 329 outstanding candidates and hundreds of nominations representing 68 countries. Each winner received $50,000.
Saving species and ecosystems with bioenergy
The winner of the 2008 Intel Environment Award is the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia, which turns an invasive plant into a clean biomass fuel.
This biomass power project saves land and protects the cheetahs. It employs 15 people at a biomass processing plant that uses a high-pressure extrusion process to create an economically viable alternative to firewood, coal, and charcoal. The fund is working to recover 25 million acres of land in Namibia and to save endangered cheetahs.
We reported earlier on the large biomass resource in Namibia, consisting of invasive thorn acacia species which ruin local biodiversity and make agriculture impossible. This major environmental problem costs hundreds of millions a year to the country, and eradicating it would add billions. Turning the resource into bioenergy is now emerging as the smartest solution. Doing so not only solves an energy crisis, it also protects the environment, reduces emissions, and conserves land that is home to unique species, like the magnificent cheetah.
The Cheetah Conservation Fund's bioenergy project was lauded for its efforts to remove the thorn bushes from the savannas to help reverse an ecological disaster and replenish Namibia's vanishing ecosystems.
Power to the people: breaking poverty with bioenergy
Another smart bioenergy concept has been developed by Decentralised Energy Systems India (DESI), which won the prestigious 2008 Accenture Economic Development Award. DESI Power is helping more than 100 villages build small-scale power plants to areas that lack electricity and is creating jobs with the launch of micro-enterprises.
The DESI plants use biomass gasification to provide power that costs up to 20 times less than realistic alternatives like solar power. None of the poor villagers could ever afford solar energy, but the bio-electricity is within their reach. To electrify the villages, DESI's biomass gasification plants use the abundant agricultural waste streams generated by the farmers themselves. Waste products from the conversion are returned to the soil.
What's more, the projects are registered by the UNCCD as Clean Development Mechanism projects, which means they receive carbon credits. This money helps end poverty in the villages.
When electricity arrives, poor villages are entirely transformed. DESI's "magic" allows for the sudden revitalisation of rural communities: farmers succeed in pumping and selling irrigation water, small entrepreneurs make a business out of charging batteries for cell phones, making ice or creating village cinemas. Women get a break with electric mills making the backbreaking work of crushing farm products a thing of the past. More important services, like storing medicines in fridges or lighting up schools are made possible as well.
Winners in other categories were Build Change (Equality Award), a San Francisco-based nonprofit that designs and trains builders and homeowners how to build earthquake-resistant houses in developing countries, and Star Syringe (Innovation Health Award), which developed a syringe that reduces the spread of disease because it can only be used once [entry ends here].
energy :: sustainability :: biomass :: bioenergy :: gasification :: renewables :: poverty :: rural development :: conservation :: developing countries ::