GE, Clarke supply first renewable biogas project in Sub-Saharan Africa


Showcasing the growing role of distributed power technologies to meet Africa’s energy needs, GE (NYSE: GE) is supplying U.K.-based energy project developer Clarke Energy with two of its ecomagination qualified Jenbacher J420 biogas engines for a new 2.8-megawatt (MW) agricultural biogas power project at a large vegetable farm near Lake Naivasha in Kenya.

The project, owned by Tropical Power, marks the first biogas engine project in sub-Saharan Africa for Clarke Energy, GE’s authorized Jenbacher gas engine distributor in the region. GE and Clarke Energy have collaborated on numerous natural gas and biogas projects in other countries on the African continent.

The farm grows vegetables for sale in supermarkets and other locations. The farm’s biomass waste, including trimmings and unsold vegetables, will be processed in a digester system to create biogas, which will fuel the Jenbacher engines to generate renewable electricity.

The two J420 units will be designed to operate at the farm’s high altitude of nearly 2,000 meters above sea level. The containerized gas engines will be configured for cogeneration, with surplus heat recovered as hot water and used to support the biogas plant’s process heating.

The project is important for Kenya’s local economy because current economic development efforts in the country are putting a strain on the local power distribution network.

Currently, the farm uses power from the grid and diesel generation for pumps, irrigation production, compressors and other equipment. However, Tropical Power’s new digester biogas power plant will produce enough electricity to meet all of the farm’s on-site energy needs while also delivering surplus electricity to the local grid, which will help stabilize power supplies for the region.

This is noteworthy because reliable power supplies support consistent business operations and help drive local economic growth.

Anaerobic digestion is an established technology in Europe and Asia for the treatment of biodegradable wastes and for the production of renewable power. However, there are not many examples of commercial anaerobic digestion facilities in Africa.

“We selected Clarke Energy to supply GE’s biogas engines on the basis of their experience of operating in sub-Saharan Africa, along with a technical solution that offered high electrical efficiency and robust performance using biogas at high altitude,” said Mike Nolan, operations director for Tropical Power.

GE will deliver the biogas engines to Kenya by the end of 2013. In addition to GE’s gas engines, Clarke Energy will deliver the project with local content originating from local suppliers and operated by Kenyan nationals.

“This first biogas engine project in sub-Saharan Africa for Clarke Energy and GE demonstrates how our fuel-flexible Jenbacher gas engines can provide reliable and cleaner on-site power, using local energy resources and labor to help promote energy and economic security throughout the African continent,” said Karl Wetzlmayer, general manager of gas engines for power generation—GE Power & Water.

Clarke Energy will provide Tropical Power with project support, including gas engine operational and maintenance training of workers. Clarke Energy’s East African service hub will handle more demanding engine maintenance procedures.

“We are delighted to be supplying GE’s Jenbacher biogas engines for our first biogas project in sub-Saharan Africa. This project demonstrates the viability of biogas as a power source in Africa to deliver significant supplies of power to the region,” said James Hobday, Clarke Energy’s business development manager for Africa.

The project illustrates the ongoing demand for GE’s gas engine distributed power solutions to help boost local energy security for industries as Kenya and other countries work to modernize their power and water infrastructure.

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