Our Projects

The Business of BIODIESEL

A fuel alternative and economic opportunity

Today, millions of litres of used cooking vegetable oils are wasted – thrown away unceremoniously by households and businesses across the globe without realising that it forms a valuable part of the green economy where resources such as biofuels are becoming a valuable commodity.

These used edible oils, known as Waste Vegetable Oils (WVOs), can be converted into biodiesel. Biodiesel is a biofuel, just like bioethanol, biowaste and other renewable sources. They are a complementary and alternative energy source to fossil fuels.

Unlike ordinary diesel, biodiesel is clean-burning and according to analyst firm, ResearchGate, provides exceptional engine performance with more lubricity while also emitting less carbon dioxide and other toxic gasses. In fact, according to ResearchGate, biodiesel reduces net carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by up to 78% (per a lifecycle) compared to ordinary diesel.

Worldwide, the production and use of biodiesel is also gaining momentum as countries move towards reducing waste and recycling where possible, while also finding ways to lessen their dependence on crude oil based products. It is estimated that the production of biodiesel will reach 41.4 billion litres by 2025, according to a research paper titled, “Biodiesel - From Production to Combustion”.

To support this incubation initiative, SANEDI’s WfE and the BBI have developed and deployed South Africa’s first mobile waste oil to biodiesel processing unit, which can reach waste oil collectors in their respective centres in urban areas, thereby supporting community members in valorising this biowaste into something more environmentally benign.

In South Africa, there is a significant opportunity for entrepreneurs – particularly those in informal and rural settlements – to utilise WVOs or edible oils in the production and resell of biodiesel. In Zambia, for example, a young entrepreneur has grown his business from 200 litres of biodiesel – produced from WVOs – to 3000 litres per month, selling it to local customers for use in vehicles and machinery.

At SANEDI, the Working for Energy (WfE) programme, in partnership with the Biofuels Business Incubator (part of the Small Enterprise Development Agency) is working towards the development of the biodiesel industry and the concomitant skill development for the emerging economy. As part of its mandate, the partnership has recognised the importance of WVOs and how they can be produced and converted into biodiesel as well glycerine, thereby creating a new industry and associated jobs.

Through the Biofuels Business Incubator, SANEDI is effectively adding value to waste oils by structuring the waste oil collectors to become biodiesel producers as opposed to on-selling in the black market, as this is an unhygienic and potentially harmful practice.

Through ongoing education and training, the hope is to incubate a flourishing biofuel industry where communities can all benefit from the collection and upcycling of biowastes into useable products. These products, such biodiesel and glycerine, offer a viable alternative to traditional fuels and other products. This is supportive of a just transition to the circular economy.

BIOGAS sector development on the cards

SANEDI and UJ place the spotlight on SA’s micro anaerobic biogas digester industry

SANEDI and the University of Johannesburg (UJ) signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with an objective to assess the performance of SANEDI’s Micro Anaerobic Biogas Digester programme as well as define the optimal niche digester market with the potential for localisation options and commercial viability of the technology.

To accelerate these efforts, SANEDI and UJ appointed the UJ Process, Energy and Environmental Technology Station (UJ-PEETS) to evaluate SANEDI’s activities during the last five years as well as develop a feasibility report that will comprise an approach going forward. The duration of the MoA is one year with implementation of results of this work being over the next five years under the overarching MoU.

Based on the outcome of the above, UJPEETS will implement a sectoral development plan that will include capacity development through awareness, education, and process development to aid in the further development of the micro anaerobic biogas digester industry in the country.

The objective of the study is to enable SANEDI to meet its mandate in supporting the government to attain and enhance the objects of the IRP 2019, national skills development and job creation initiatives.

SANEDI wants to develop a micro-scale anaerobic digestion treatment process in order to provide a local, inexpensive, durable and easy-to manage treatment option for rural and urban bio-waste.

Micro anaerobic digestion involves the production of biogas, but on a small scale within farms or small communities. The micro-scale digestion production units are smaller than 50m3 and used mainly for thermal applications. Some small-scale agricultural units have gas generation capacity to power small-scale electricity generation capacity between 30 and 100 kW.

As part of the Working for Energy (WfE) Programme over the last eight years, SANEDI installed over 100 micro anaerobic digesters at community development facilities, Early Childhood Development Centres (ECDC), schools, colleges of agriculture, universities and individual households in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Limpopo, North West, Gauteng and KwaZulu- Natal (KZN) provinces.

Through the MoA, UJ PEETS also aims to provide insights to improve the biogas industry and outline the potential role and competitiveness of SMEs through the application of specialised knowledge, technology innovation and facilitation of interaction between industry and academia.

The country’s micro anaerobic biogas digester industry has the potential to strengthen local renewable energy efforts with an emphasis on the use of biogas as an alternative energy resource in smaller communities.

SANEDI recognises that the technology can unlock the waste-to-energy potential of the country not only for small-scale applications, but also for the large scale that includes the greater energy industry such as thermal fuels, electricity generation and transportation.

Through the SANEDI-UJ MoA, UJ-PEETS will:

UJ-PEETS was established in 2010 under the support of UJ and is funded by Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), which is an agency of the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) to fulfil this mandate.

The above extended to the construction of additional nine institutional size biogas systems in the Chavani village using additional local beneficiaries from the training of the partnership. UNIVEN is also currently assisting SANEDI with the impact assessment and restructuring of the Gawula Biogas Project for improved impact to the community.

SANEDI is pleased to partner and support the various and ongoing projects of the University of Venda. They are doing tremendous work to support the communities to transit towards the circular economy, demonstrating how animal and farm waste can be reused to benefit local communities by providing cleaner-burning biogas and biofertiliser which enhance food production.

Limpopo municipalities such as the Capricorn District Municipality (CDM) are also supporting the UNIVEN Green Tech Promo Drive which offers solutions to women and youth unemployment, poverty alleviation, addressing inequality, addressing cooking energy shortages, enhancing food security and other climate change impacts like the reduction of greenhouse gases emissions.

Through its Working for Energy (WfE) Programme, SANEDI has continued to spearhead its applied research mandate by raising awareness of clean energy technologies for low-income communities across the country. Further, the institute has been promoting access to these technologies in such communities, which stand to benefit from improved access to cost-effective, clean energy.

Limpopo is getting greener

SANEDI and University of Venda partnership leads waste-to-energy drive

The University of Venda (UNIVEN) in Limpopo is leading the field in the research, development and demonstration of waste-to-energy conversion thanks to a partnership with SANEDI and other prominent local and international role players.

Since 2009, the University’s Green Technologies Promotion (UNIVEN Green Tech Promo) Drive has embarked on various successful projects which include the completion of a waste-to-energy conversion training and awareness initiative in the Vhembe district in 2014. This project formed part of an overall green economy awareness programme that was sponsored by the Limpopo Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism (LEDET).

The UNIVEN’s Green Tech Promo Drive has also attracted other local and international support which includes the rollout of the GEF (Global Environment Fund) project, Promoting Organic Waste-to-Energy and Other Low-Carbon Technologies in Small and Medium and Micro-Scale Enterprises (SMMEs): Accelerating Biogas Market Development, administered by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO).

During this period, SANEDI co-financed the UNIVEN Green Tech Promo Drive project aimed at enhancing awareness and capacity building amongst Limpopo’s women and youth for skills development in clean energy technologies.

This culminated in the greening of the Mhingaville Early Childhood Development Centre, a project which saw the uptake of biogas digesters built by the Vatsekeme, a woman-led community-based organisation. The organisation was also trained as part of the SANEDI partnership.


SANEDI and MDA partner to provide mining communities with safer and energy-efficient cooking solutions

SANEDI and the Mineworkers Development Agency (MDA) have partnered to bring relief to the country’s former mineworkers and their communities in the wake of mine closures and the ever-growing prevalence of mining “ghost towns” and other poverty-stricken areas. The partnership became increasingly vital due to the immediate support required in the context of the pandemic. As a start, 200 families in need were identified in the Free State (Virginia) and the North West province (Orkney). They received safer, more sustainable, and more cost-effective cooking solutions to see them through some hard months

SANEDI and MDA provided packages that included portable LPG stoves systems with multiple LPG refill vouchers to minimise the impact of lack of access to efficient and effective cooking fuels. While the MDA offers food parcels, a problem arises in the cooking process. The traditional fuels used by these communities are scarce and detrimental, resulting in indoor air quality challenges that can exacerbate the health risks associated with the pandemic. LPG, on the other hand, is a clean and highly efficient cooking fuel. It cooks food fast, is easy to control, and has little impact on the ambient air quality. Furthermore, it produces no residue or particulate matter because it undergoes complete combustion.

The MDA’s mandate is to create sustainable livelihoods in areas of endemic poverty. As in the case with SANEDI, the agency works in tandem with partners such as NGOs and CSI programmes. A key part of the MDA’s work is to provide food security, targeted support to emerging farmers and other job creation micro-enterprises. The Agency also supports capacity building among community organisations. These are the areas that are targeted for applied research by SANEDI in its energy access portfolio.

SANEDI is supporting these objectives through the development and use of renewable energy and efficiency systems that use natural and other available resources to enhance the energy optimisation of operations of these communitybased establishments. These initiatives will improve the viability of the goods and services produced, thereby enhancing the sustainability of the operations, thus reducing poverty and enhancing livelihoods in targeted areas.

Together with the MDA, SANEDI can establish effective and sustainable energy systems that will ensure communities optimise their energy use while instilling effective resource optimisation combined with sustainable waste management practices. Key to this is a systems approach to resource management including waste-to-energy initiatives that contribute towards the circular economy in these operations.

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