ShapeShifter

Cow manure might one day power South Africa

(Click here for more "Shapeshifter" articles such as this one.)

Founded by Sean Thomas in 2007, Bio2Watt produces biogas, a renewable source of energy produced by the breakdown of organic waste.

The concept is so successful that biogas from Bio2Watt will produce up to 30 percent of BMW South Africa’s electricity needs by 2015.

“I’m actually a mechanical engineer,” says Bio2Watt’s Sean Thomas. “I specialise in renewable energy and feel that biogas, more so that solar or wind, is perfect in the South African context.”

Power from poo

“Our site east of Pretoria has more than 25 000 cattle that produce 40 000 tons of manure each year,” says Thomas.

“The manure goes through a process where it's digested so it ferments, and while fermenting it produces methane gas,” say Thomas. “We also add food waste to this.”

Methane powered generators

Bio2Watt has four huge tanks that function almost like an animal’s stomach. Waste is pumped into the tanks and left to ferment while carefully monitoring the acidity and temperature.

“It's a living organism so the bacteria need to be in the correct environment to be able to break down those waste streams,” says Thomas. “While breaking down they produce methane which fuels internal combustion engines. These engines drive generators that produce electricity.”

Foreign and local funding

Thomas provided most of Bio2Watt’s start-up capital but the Dutch, Finish and Norwegian governments pitched in when his funds ran out.

“Initially all the funding came from overseas, but now we’re getting a loan from the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) to build a plant.”

Can poo power save us?

“There are various other revenue streams that come with these projects,” says Thomas. “For example, the plant produces fertiliser and the engines’ heat can also be exploited.

“We have to be realistic though. This is a long-term investment.”

(Click here for more "Shapeshifter" articles such as this one.)

Watch 702/CapeTalk presenter Bruce Whitfield interview Bio2Watt's Sean Thomas for more detail:

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