19. Village Industrial Power Plant
1.4 billion people worldwide do not have access to electricity. Energy poverty is a barrier to food security, nutrition, health, hygiene, opportunity and financial independence. Rural exodus accounts for 14 million people a year leaving their villages with 70% ending up in the slums. The lack of appropriate agricultural processing technology results in significant post harvest losses in some cases as high as 80%.
The Better World Workshop (BWW) has 35 years experience developing and disseminating energy and crop processing technologies in Africa. Gazogen’s Village Industrial Power (V.I.P.) plant is a carbon neutral, small-scale power plant fueled by biomass in the form of crop waste. Carl Bielenberg, MSc, M.E., M.I.T., founder of BWW and Gazogen, strives to create opportunity through a systems approach to problems. The V.I.P. technology provides opportunity in a number of critical areas including women's empowerment, food security, hygiene, water, education, and economic opportunity.
The Village Industrial Power (V.I.P.) plant is a skid mounted steam power plant providing an incubator for village industries requiring low cost thermal, mechanical, and electrical energy. The V.I.P. burns biomass from crop waste, including palm fiber, peanut shell, rice husk, coffee husk, etc. It produces 7 kW of 3phase electric and/or mechanical power, suitable for running crop processing equipment, replacing diesel engines. Thermal energy is available as steam, hot water, or hot air for cooking, sterilization, laundry, bathing, and crop drying.
The V.I.P. plant provides on demand 3 phase electricity for energy intensive activities, steam for thermal energy applications, and the capacity to power micro-grids. The use of wet or dry biomass fuels provides fuel flexibility and eliminates the fuel cost associated with other forms of power generation. Using biomass by-product from crop processing eliminates the labor typically used in collecting wood and other forms of biomass, since the processing occurs next to the generating plant. Women and children can spend 4 to 6 hours a day collecting fuel. Carl Bielenberg demonstrated an earlier prototype version of this technology in the Casamance, southern Senegal. The feedback prompted us to invest significant personal time and money developing the technology. We installed a 100kW woodchip fueled pilot plant at a 150 bed New Hampshire state nursing home. This plant will produce electricity for the facility and capitalize on the waste heat from the woodchip fueled boiler.
Gazogen’s V.I.P. plant is a technologically advanced small-scale steam power plant. Like other steam power plants, it is able to use any fuel that can support a fire. Our high temperature furnace burns low grade wet or dry biomass efficiently, with minimal smoke. Often these forms of biomass are burned in piles producing incomplete combustion, an environmental hazard, with little or no benefit to the village. Our robust boiler produces high temperature superheated steam, converted to motive power in our thermodynamically efficient, oil-less steam engine. Our literature review found only one comparable unit. Tiny Tech, India, makes a small steam power plant of traditional design, that is approximately half as efficient (uses twice as much fuel) as the V.I.P.. The high efficiency of our technology combined with the reduced size of the equipment, lowers its cost and increases its portability. The V.I.P. plant can be transported by pickup truck, and placed immediately in operation. Recycling its water reduces water consumption, boiler fouling, and corrosion.
While the V.I.P. is manufactured by Gazogen, the technical training and adaptation of crop processing equipment will be carried out by The Better World Workshop. Gazogen will provide beta prototype V.I.P. units at well below their current cost for the purpose of the demonstration project. The Better World Workshop will provide crop processing technologies specifically adapted to the V.I.P. unit. Based upon our many years of work developing agricultural and energy technologies in Africa, we are convinced of the enormous potential of the V.I.P. technology to revolutionize the economies of rural communities in developing countries. This potential extends to other parts of the world, i.e., the Philippines and Indonesia, where there is limited access to electricity in rural areas, and important food crops that produce suitable biomass during processing.
The Better World Workshop will use the prize money to establish demonstration units in the Northwest Province of Cameroon, where we have close relationships with local village organizers and environmental stewards. Our principal collaborators will be: Joshua Konkankoh, founder of the Ndanifor Permaculture Eco Village project, Bafut; Edwin Binfon, founder of the Office Pro School, educating primary students and individuals whose education was affected by child labor and early marriage, and Dr. Ajume Wingo, Professor of Philosophy and the Director of the Center for Values and Social Policy at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Associate of the Du Bois Institute at Harvard University and founder of Wingo Wireless in Kumbo. In an effort to verify our calculations and continue to improve the V.I.P. technology we plan to conduct research on the units. We will partner with Patrice Levang, agro-economist, IRD, for the evaluation of research data collected. Joshua Konkankoh will film the installation and operation of the projects for use in future training and marketing.
Why it should be recognized:
The V.I.P. plant represents a new paradigm for sustainable community development through agricultural crop processing. Small scale oil palm provides a compelling example. Combining the V.I.P. plant with one or more oil palm expellers and a sterilizer enables a village to process up to 500 tons of fruit per year, producing 100,000 liters of oil, worth about $100,000 and about $25,000 in palm kernels. The wet palm fiber enables the generation of roughly 20,000 kWhrs of electricity, of which about half would be used to process oil palm, the balance can be used for lighting, battery charging, water pumping, and other activities normally not available or fueled by expensive diesel fuel. Using the thermal energy by-product from power generation to sterilize the fruit eliminates the consumption and incomplete combustion of firewood.
The V.I.P. plant represents an intermediate step in sophistication and scale that supports the economic development of villages through entrepreneurship. Several hundred farm families per village, and as many as 100,000 villages, representing an aggregate population of more than 100 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, could benefit from this technology. The V.I.P. plant provides low cost electricity making it an economically attractive solution that will remain competitive and coexist with grid supplied electricity, available mainly in urban areas, and conventional renewable energy sources far into the future.