Assessing potential for bioLPG production and use within the cooking energy sector in Africa – a ground-breaking new Report issued by MECS and the Global LPG Partnership

By the Global LPG Partnership

WHAT IS BIOLPG?

BioLPG is green LPG (bottled gas) produced from renewable resources. The components of bioLPG – biobutane and biopropane – are chemically and functionally identical to conventionally sourced LPG coming from oil and gas production and oil refining. BioLPG is completely compatible with existing LPG supply infrastructure and LPG stoves and cooking equipment used by households in high and low-income countries.

WHY BIOLPG SHOULD BE PROMOTED AT SCALE?

Indigenous, economically viable production of bioLPG in developing countries, especially to support needs for clean cooking fuels, offers important social, environmental and economic benefits:

  1. Impactful, affordable access to modern energy and clean cooking.
  2. Substantial mitigation of the morbidity and mortality caused by Household Air Pollution (“HAP”) caused by cooking with traditional fuels, such as wood and charcoal
  3. Reduction in use of time by women and children in gathering wood, tending fires and cooking
  4. Reduction in exposure to risk of Sex and Gender-Based Violence (“SGBV”) when gathering wood, especially for those in refugee camps
  5. Large-scale reduction in forest degradation and deforestation caused by unsustainable wood harvesting
  6. Substantial reduction of black carbon emissions, the short-lived but powerful climate change forcing agent emitted when biomass is burned in inefficient stoves
  7. Reduction of LPG imports and associated use of hard currency, reduction in import dependence
  8. Circular economy use of the CO2 and methane in biogas emitted by decomposition of the organic components in wastes
  9. Progress toward mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions

The prospect of large quantities of economically feasible LPG production from renewably-sourced feedstocks (bioLPG), using agricultural residues, solid wastes and liquid wastes, is tremendously attractive to mitigate concerns about reliance on conventionally sourced LPG and to support country economies. BioLPG would also deliver the economic efficiency of continued use and further expansion of the existing sunk investments in supply-side LPG infrastructure and demand-side household LPG equipment.  In a post-COVID world of reduced financial capability, this is an important justification for allocating funds to scaling up developing country LPG sectors with the benefits of adding a fully renewable component.

REPORT MAIN FINDINGS

The Report is a key initial reference point for understanding the feasibility of producing LPG from renewable feedstocks in Africa before 2030. The Report team  (see details at the bottom of the page) was able to establish feasibility of bioLPG production and also to develop a shortlist of recommended pilot projects for support, whose successful implementations could serve as templates for large scale replication across Africa. Therefore, the Report’s findings should particularly interest African governments, international institutions, public and private capital providers and the private sector.

The Report delivered three bodies of findings:

  1. Factors which bear on bioLPG feasibility and its potential scale of implementation;
  2. Identification of pilot projects for detailed focus; and
  3. Recommendations for action related to five bioLPG pilot projects.
  1. FACTORS BEARING ON BIOLPG FEASIBILITY

Policy requirements related to the supply of feedstocks, siting and approval of chemical processing plants, and storage, transport and distribution of LPG were appraised and detailed, together with state of policy readiness, adequacy and likelihood of stability.

The needed national enabling environment was defined for feedstock supply, chemical processing plants, and market readiness to safely utilise bioLPG at scale as a clean cooking fuel.

The availability of feedstocks needed by the technical processes chosen for focus was assessed. Key factors evaluated were quantity, reliability and sustainability of supply, raw cost, logistics of aggregation to point of bioLPG production, and compliance with policy goals.

An appraisal was made of technical processes that reform renewable feedstocks into standard hydrocarbon liquid and gaseous products ready for dropping into existing market structures and existing/easily expandable distribution infrastructure.

Analysis indicated that the inquiry should be focused on processes using feed-gas from (i) anaerobic digestion (“AD”) of agricultural residues, (ii) AD of sorted municipal organic waste, or (iii) pyrolysis of mixed municipal solid waste (“MSW”).  Vegetable oil and animal fat hydrogenation, as well as household level biogas, were ruled out on various policy, sustainability and economic grounds. 

Estimates were made of the probable range of costs to construct and operate pilot bioLPG plants that could use the logistically possible amounts of feedstock identified in countries. Infrastructure needs and market readiness to absorb bioLPG were analysed.  Financial models of the recommended pilot projects were made. Discussions with leading public and private finance sources were held, to assess their readiness to consider the pilot projects modelled by the Report team.

2. IDENTIFICATION OF PILOT PROJECTS FOR DETAILED FOCUS

Possible pilot projects were identified based on the factors above and hence the likelihood of the defined projects being successful and therefore being templates for replication widely. The Report team assessed all SSA countries for evidence of announced intentions to address energy access and to prioritise the use of LPG. North African countries were excluded from consideration based on their relatively advanced energy supply conditions. Countries which have already prioritised scale-up of their LPG sectors were judged readier to support bioLPG production, if it were found to be feasible. Only countries which had progressed into formal national LPG sector expansion planning and implementation were considered candidates for detailed, further study

Feedstock potential was evaluated for six countries that emerged from this initial screening in relation to candidate technical processes. Policy, regulatory, legal and political enabling environments were assessed, with weight given to readiness, adequacy and likelihood of stability. These analyses supported the notion of prioritizing the use of biogas to produce bioLPG over its use to generate electric power (as fuel for combined heat and power plants).

The Report process resulted in the identification of five potential pilot projects, in Rwanda, Kenya and Ghana, each using technical paths that emerged favourably from Report assessment of readiness of processes for large scale implementation by 2030. Required feedstocks in logistically feasible locations were determined to be available in quantities adequate to support the pilot projects, which were sized to produce quantities that would have significant impact in the LPG market. The Report finance team conducted financial modelling and held scoping conversations with multiple representative financial institutions.

The Report team selected recommended pilot projects with pragmatic considerations in mind. MSW, whether raw or sorted, was assessed as the principal feedstock that had potential for economic aggregation and provision at scale to bioLPG plants in the near to medium term.

 MSW at scale exists in many large cities in a rapidly urbanising Africa, and in most cases handling it to modern standards is currently a challenge, with negative environmental and health impacts. Inward migration and population growth is set to significantly increase the size of most towns and cities in SSA over the coming decades. Effective and safe disposal of MSW will be an increasing challenge. Utilising the proposed bioLPG processes to convert MSW into a high priority energy product would provide an additional incentive to public and private sector support for investment in, and management of, MSW to a higher standard.  

However, the supply of MSW for bioLPG production requires cooperation of governments for the implementation of MSW management strategies. Policy environments, government interest and government human capacity are key needs.

The recommended project using agricultural residue feedstock does not require proactive government policy creation and therefore is a test of pure private sector feasibility.  The economic aggregation of agricultural residues was determined to be possible in certain geographies in the near and medium term, but not at the scale of MSW. 

3. RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ACTION

The Report recommends a set of detailed feasibility studies to fully define one or more of the following five pilot projects, presented in priority of recommendation:

  1. Rwanda (Kigali):  organic MSW via AD
  2. Kenya (Nairobi):  rural agri-waste via AD
  3. Ghana (Accra):  organic MSW via AD
  4. Rwanda (Kigali):  MSW via pyrolysis
  5. Ghana (Accra):  MSW via pyrolysis

The three AD projects are planned to produce 10,000 metric tonnes per annum of bioLPG, while the two pyrolysis projects are planned to produce 25,0000 tonnes per year. Each smaller project (10,000 metric tonnes) would produce enough bioLPG to satisfy the estimated full cooking needs of 100,000 households (~500,000 people) at a projected LPG usage of 20 kilograms per person per annum.


Scoping of timelines indicate that properly conducted stages of detailed feasibility studies, project business plan development, project preparation, raising finance and project construction could result in pilot project in-service dates around 2024-2025.

With 12 months of pilot project operating data that evidenced the meeting of technical and economic expectations, additional projects could be developed and put in operation on a wide scale by 2029-2030.

REPORT TEAM

The Report was developed by an expert team led by senior staff of the Global LPG Partnership (US) and colleagues from the University of Surrey (UK), UCL (UK), Imperial College (UK), the Gas Technology Institute (US) and African institutions. Full details on team members may be found in the Report appendices.