Material and Energy valorisation of waste in a Circular Economy

Biogas turned on at KwaZulu-Natal Creches


The South African Research Chair in Waste and Climate Change (SARCHI WaCC) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal has announced the commissioning and handover of five custom-designed waste-to-energy anaerobic digestion plants located at early childhood development centers (ECDCs) in the rural Ndwedwe Local Municipality, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The project was funded by the National Lotteries Commission (NLC), with support by the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI). The systems utilise food waste and faecal sludge as feedstock, and incorporate purpose-built toilet blocks, maximising both sanitation and energy outcomes for beneficiaries. Generated gas will be utilised for cooking with the centres’ kitchen, negating the daily consumption of fossil fuels.

Despite gains over the past two decades, South Africa faces mounting service delivery challenges. Up to three million households in South Africa still lack access to electricity, predominantly in rural areas, and although major gains have been made in rural electrification over the past decade, energy poverty still predominates. Moreover, even in households with electrical connections, residents still predominantly rely on burning cheaper (and dirtier) fuels for their daily heating and cooking needs.

Likewise, the sanitation gap, in many rural households is also severe, with nearly 20% of households lacking access to improved toilet facilities, while persistent drought conditions across a broad swath of the country, and the spectre of continuous warming due to climate change, threatens future water security. Over the past two decades, small, decentralised, bio-digesters, have increasingly been seen within South Africa as a potential pathway for addressing energy poverty, lowering national carbon emissions, and reducing reliance on the national grid.

In response, a number of nationally funded bio-digester projects have been developed which utilise locally available feedstocks (principally cow dung and food waste) to provide gas for cooking within rural households. However, few of these decentralised systems have attempted to utilise faecal sludge as a feedstock, and those that have, have done so in an ad-hoc fashion- leading to potentially unsanitary disposal and wasting a valuable by-product of the digestion process.

Within this context, the commissioned interventions, integrated biogas, sanitation systems, which maximise both energy and wastewater treatment outcomes are envisioned as sustainable replicable models within similar institutional contexts and would benefit from future state investment in green technologies.