Sustainable Energy for Climate Protection

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    Lulu Zhang

    Energy consumption and thus greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the developing world are expected to increase given the projected social and economic development. At the same time, climate models suggest that Africa’s climate, for example, will become more variable with high levels of uncertainty, resulting in potentially large economic impacts across the continent.

    As the fifth-largest producer of palm oil on the global market, Nigeria, where smallholders make up more than 80 per cent of the processors, relies heavily on diesel power while making little use of the biomass residue generated in mills. To fully maximise the potential of resources, there is an urgent need to explore the impacts of palm oil processing on GHG emissions and develop a strategy of circular economy in palm oil production, especially for smallholder systems such as those in Nigeria.

    The objectives of this project are twofold:

    to reduce smallholders’ GHG emissions and energy dependence on fossil fuels in palm oil processing, and
    to establish a circular-economy-oriented palm oil production by using biomass-residue-based energy to protect the climate, increase economic returns, and achieve a more sustainable operation at the smallholder level.

    While bioenergy offers a better alternative to fossil fuel-based energy, the application of the circular economy concept, encompassing sustainability in production and consumption, remains a critical factor in all efforts towards the reduction of GHG emissions. In the Nigerian case, common use of biomass residue is to produce saturated steam for process heat. Such a system releases CO2 into the air while burning diesel on the one hand, and limits the smallholders’ ability to process the fresh fruit efficiently on the other, leading to a high level of free fatty acids in the oil products. This lowers the market value of the products. A transition from the traditional linear economy to a circular economy is expected to reduce GHG emissions from the intensive use of land and deforestation, mitigate environmental pollution associated with fossil fuel use, and increase the quality of life in rural areas.

    This project is supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation International Climate Protection Fellowship Programme (ICP), funded under the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety’s (BMU) International Climate Initiative.