Addis Ababa Houses Africa’s First Waste to Energy Plant

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The African continent is home of the world’s fast-growing economies. It is also the world’s fastest urbanizing continent. Large cities are springing up everywhere and have helped lift millions out of poverty. However, power and waste management are both huge problems in Africa, and both need to be addressed to sustain our growth. An Ethiopian entrepreneur has found a solution to this plight with Africa’s first waste-to-energy-plant. This plant will reduce waste while powering urban homes.

Samuel Alemayehu, a Stanford engineer, says the plant will supply 185 GWh of electricity per annum. That’s 30% of Addis Ababa’s power needs. It will also incinerate 1400 tons of waste per day (and over 400,000 tons per year). The entrepreneur oversees the $120 million project as a co-founder of Cambridge industries. The company is working with its CNEEC (its Chinese JV partners), the Ethiopian government and a consortium of international companies to transform the city’s approach to waste.

“We turn one of Africa’s most challenging social problems, the management of waste, into a source of new wealth” Cambridge Industries says.

For half a century, the Koshe dump site had been the only landfill in Addis Ababa. As the city expanded, the landfill became part of the urban landscape. The landfill sprawled over an area of 36 football pitches and attracted hundreds of waste pickers. Early in 2017, a landslide on the dump killed 114 people, this prompted the government to declare three days of mourning. At the same time, Ethiopia’s power supply is failing to keep up with its demand. The Reppie plant is designed to address pollution and embrace renewable energy.

The plant burns rubbish at a temperature of 1800 ℃ and uses the steam produced to power two 25MW steam turbines. These turbines combined, generate 185 GWh per year to the Addis Ababa populace. Modern gas treatment technology is used to reduce the release of toxins during the process. Reppie is also part of Ethiopia’s broader plan to boost living standards while limiting its emissions. The plant operates on EU emission standards. Asides producing power, the waste-to-energy plant will sort metals for recycling. It will also clean 220 cubic meters of waste leachate every day (toxic liquid that can pollute the environment).

In cities where land is in short supply, waste-to-energy incineration is a big win. It saves space, generates electricity, prevents the release of toxic chemicals into groundwater and reduces the release of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere.

Waste incineration is popular in Europe, nearly one-quarter of all municipal solid waste is incinerated. France alone has 126 plants, Germany has 121 and Italy has 40. However, the most common way countries in Africa dispose of waste is by piling it up, burying it or dumping in rivers and lagoons.

“We hope that Reppie will serve as a model for other countries in the region and around the world” Zerubabel Getachew, Ethiopia’s deputy permanent rep to the UN in Nairobi says.

Alemayehu, a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, is already working on expanding the reach of renewables on the continent. He has plans to construct similar waste-to-energy plants in Uganda, Kenta, Cameroon, Senegal and Djibouti.

“African cities have seen explosive growth in the past three decades and have outgrown the infrastructures planned for them” says Alemayehu.

With Ethiopia as a case study, I think the government of Nigeria through its ministries (MoPWH and Ministry of Land, Housing and Urban Development) and stakeholders in the power sector should look at the possibility of implementing a waste-to-energy plant in the country. It will help provide power to the masses and solve the waste problem in cities like Lagos, Kano, Port-Harcourt, Onitsha, etc.

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