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NUST student has solutions to power challenges

by Staff reporter
11 Oct 2022 at 06:04hrs | Views
HE started with developing a unique dry biomass-powered prototype machine in 2020, which has the capacity to pump up to 60 000 litres of water per hour, a model that could be scaled up for use on larger commercial projects in mines and irrigation schemes.

Initially designed to deal with problems associated with the invasive exotic lantana camara plant or shrub due to its poisonous effect on the natural ecosystem and a threat to grazing land, the biomass conversion technology is promising to be a game changer in providing clean alternative energy, as well as creating economic value for households and private entities.

The invention is yet to be officially launched as a finished product in the market, as it is undergoing polishing processes and pre-production stage fine-tuning with relevant bodies, but is already exciting market interest given its wider implications.

Its originator, Fortune Mswathi Donga (27), an Applied Chemistry graduate from the National University of Science and Technology (Nust) who is based in Nkayi District, is now focused on establishing a company that would provide similar energy solutions on a large-scale including easing some of the biting electricity challenges facing the country.

"At a certain point soon I'll have to launch the company, the website, and the new products. There's a huge positive response from the market and commitments to buy the product once on market," says Donga who operates from his father's metalwork shop near Nkayi Business Centre.

"Some studies are being done at Nust on the biomass product performance. So, launching the product any earlier would have been premature. While this product has been under development together with the water pumps, there are new products also being developed so that once we launch the company, we're also able to have a cocktail of products in our portfolio.

"So, at the moment to enter the market there's still a hurdle to be jumped. To mass produce there must be a workshop set up and other issues to be sorted for operations to fully run smoothly hence at this point some reasonable financial injection is needed."

At a time when Zimbabwe and the wider region are faced with electricity generation and supply gaps, which are negatively affecting productivity and basic service provision, Donga is convinced that vast deposits of idle biomass material across the country could be harnessed to generate clean power for the economy.

He defines biomass as a broad and specific term referring to any naturally existing hydrogen and carbon-based material, solid material like wood, shrubs, animal dung and anything that is animal and plant matter capable of decomposing.

Using the same technology, the youthful innovator has come up with another model to guide the establishment of biogas-fired mini-electricity plants that could be adopted by rural institutions or companies to meet their own energy needs.

"The new innovation is simply another unique kind of the first. While the first pumped water using biomass, what's happening with the second is that biomass is converted the same way as before into gas then the gas fuels an electric generator," he says.

"This can be implemented in various levels or sizes of between 10-1 000kW. We can have what can be termed ‘biomass power stations'. Here the approach is that in order to tackle energy needs, especially electricity, we need to decentralise electricity generation.

"Companies or industries that have access to biomass resources like farms, timber processors, or communities with access to biomass or invasive plant species can independently produce power for their consumption and sell excess to neighbours or the grid via net metering."

According to Donga, a decentralised power generation model for Zimbabwe is ideal. What this means, he explains, is that for every kilowatt hour a company can generate the implication is that there is 1kW less chance of load shedding.

From this standpoint, individual households or entities could also invest in power generation businesses and sell to the national grid over and above meeting their own needs.

"This is easy and this technology is capable of that. There's a company in India, Husk Power Systems, for instance, which installs similar technology to generate electricity using rice husk in communities far from grid access.

"So, they help enterprises and farmers away from the national grid to add value to their products and reduce post-harvest waste using a reliable, affordable and climate resilient energy generation model," says Donga.

"I dream of the same for Zimbabwe. Our local power challenges should be addressed using local solutions, especially ones developed in Zimbabwe as we have a better understanding of all mechanisms involved."

His proposition comes at a time when the country's growing economy is piling pressure on energy resources amid a depressed national and regional grid. While the Government is seized with implementing big energy projects such as the US$1,5 billion Hwange Power Station expansion, there have been calls to diversify the country's energy mix.

Roping in more private sector players, especially on renewable energy investments like solar, biogas, wind and hydro, is seen as ideal in complementing Government efforts as well as assisting the shift towards easing carbon footprint in line with global climate change commitments.

"Zimbabwe is said to have over 1 000MW of energy in biomass resources and our technology centres around gasification, which means there is one more technology implementable in Zimbabwe that could bring us a huge step closer to synthesizing biofuels using the Fischer Tropsch process," Donga added.

"Zimbabwe loses millions of US-dollars paying for electricity imports and still load-shedding remains a big challenge with consumers experiencing long hours of over 12 hours or three to four days per week as we do here in Nkayi. Amagetsi kasisawazi."

 The Fischer-Tropsch (FT)) process is a catalysed chemical reaction in which carbon monoxide and hydrogen are converted into liquid hydrocarbons of various forms.The FT process was developed by Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch in early 1920s.

While many students desperately look for employment upon graduation, Donga prefers the entrepreneurial path and hopes to derive a livelihood from such innovative projects, which he says have the potential for a higher spin-off.

"With these projects I intend to define my livelihood and plan to open a company that fabricates and implements these technologies and more. Actually, my plan is that these projects are reproduced or mass produced for companies, industries and individuals," he said.

"At some point even myself or my company may tap into generating electricity for sale to Zesa. Hence some products to be developed include investing in affordable water drilling equipment for rural communities that will especially be usable in non-rocky terrains and it's at the final developmental stages and will then be tested."

The youthful innovator says he has many entrepreneurial ideals and looks forward to going commercial soon but lacks capital, hence he is also seeking for potential investors to buy in into his projects.

"There are more products I need to develop to make daily community life affordable and climate friendly. I want to spend my time developing new inventions as a means of living, solving daily challenges and saving people from the adverse climate impacts," he said.

"As I have indicated, my dream is to set up a company that will drive mass production of biomass power stations for other companies and individuals but the challenge is financing. Setting up a company is not easy, especially without adequate financing."

Donga grew up in the Gwamayaya area under Chief Sikhobokhobo in Nkayi.

He did his primary education at Gwamayaya Primary School and proceeded to Hlangabeza High School for secondary education up to 2014.

Source - The Chronicle
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