Remembering the Basics: Easy Wins for a Sustainable Energy Future in Guyana, Part II

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By Dr. Ulric Trotz – OilNOW

In our previous consideration of the utilisation of wastes for energy generation in Guyana, we discussed, so far, the potential of employing domestic and agricultural wastes, inclusive of wastes from livestock for this purpose. For the first time in its history, Guyana now has the means and the opportunity—courtesy of oil revenues—to explore bold and innovative approaches for sustainability across all industries. 

Dr. Ulric Trotz

Let us turn our attention to wastes from the sawmilling and rice industries which generate a considerable quantity of wastes in their operations locally and as a result, pose serious environmental challenges countrywide. One of the outcomes of the recent Guyana mission to India is an agreement to access technology from India to generate energy from sawmilling wastes. This is an encouraging development, and the government should extend the scope of this initiative to the utilisation of other waste streams that are at the moment of mere nuisance value to Guyanese communities that are exposed to them. In all cases, interventions for wastes to energy conversion redounds to the benefit of the potential investor and in most cases, that is the private sector. This is definitely the case with the rice and timber industries and the mega livestock facility that is now taking shape locally. This opens the door for private sector led growth, incentivised by an enabling policy environment for energy generation and use by private individuals (e.g., Feed-In Tariffs, Power Purchase Agreements). Consideration can also be given to the establishment of a revolving fund by the government, that provides access to concessionary loans by entities that are interested in taking advantage of this opportunity. Fortunately, there are mature, affordable, off-shelf technologies for using rice and sawmilling wastes for energy generation. Indeed, under the auspices of the Institute of Applied Science and Technology (IAST), as far back as the decade of the eighties, these technologies were successfully introduced and utilised in Guyana. 

For the wood waste, the Institute worked with the Willems Timber Company at their facility in Kaow Island on the Essequibo River. At that time, Kaow Island was a vibrant sawmilling enterprise, and all of the island’s power was produced through costly diesel generators. The Institute’s engineers worked with Willems’ personnel to convert their fossil fuel-fed generating equipment to a state-of-the-art facility that utilized the enormous amount of wood waste produced by the sawmilling enterprise as fuel. This resulted in significant savings by the sawmill and aesthetically more pleasant surroundings due to the absence of piles of wood waste adorning the surrounding landscape. The residents on Kaow Island also had the benefit of free electricity for their living quarters. 

Unfortunately, the installed capacity of the plant far exceeded the needs of the Kaow Island facility. With support from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), we explored the feasibility of a power cable link between Kaow Island and Bartica, a small township nearby, so that the excess power could be utilised there to meet the needs of that community. Unfortunately, there was no follow-up on this. Still, the project fully demonstrated the feasibility of wood waste to energy technology, which could be applied across the length and breadth of Guyana. It would be helpful to assess the amount of waste generated by the industry at this time and to use this as a basis for supporting the use of this resource for energy generation across the entire sawmilling sector. 

Rice husks constitute a significant waste generated by the rice industry. They can be seen piled up, often smouldering, and creating environmental challenges outside the rice milling facilities in the country’s rural areas. This waste has tremendous value on the global market, and nationally, we need to treat it as a resource, not a bothersome waste. Again, in the eighties, the IAST arranged with the Kayman Sankar Company to implement a project illustrating the feasibility of utilising the rice husk for energy generation at its milling facilities on the Essequibo coast and at Blairmont in Berbice. The partnership adjusted the company’s energy system to use rice husk as feedstock instead of diesel at both locations. Energy costs, compared to those arising from the use of diesel generators or taking power from the grid, plummeted as a result of this transformation. Indeed, private sector interest in the sawmilling and the rice industries was attracted because we could make a business case for the investment, showing that the savings that accrued would pay back for the investment quickly. 

The story about the rice husk continues. After combustion in the waste-to-energy facility, the residue left is ash, referred to as Rice Husk Ash (RHA). It is a highly abrasive ash, and at that time, the Institute promoted it as a good base for use in locally manufactured scouring powder. The Institute also conducted further laboratory research on possible uses for the ash. Our preliminary work indicated that it could be used as an extender for Portland cement, thus lowering the price of cement blocks (less use of expensive Portland cement per block). Indeed, mixing at a certain level did not compromise the strength of the cement blocks. Subsequent research in the Faculty of Technology at the University of Guyana led to a publication in 1990 by A.A. Boateng and D. Skeete in the Journal of Cement and Concrete Research, on the “Incineration of rice hull for use as a cementitious material: the Guyana experience.The study concluded that using the RHA could support a rural building industry by blending the ash with Portland cement, thus significantly reducing building costs.

The global market for RHA has been showing steady growth, owing to its increasing use in various applications, such as building & construction, steel industry, ceramics & refractory and pure silica for the manufacture of photovoltaic cells for the solar energy industry.

With the continued expansion of the local rice industry and the implementation of Guyana’s Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS), the industry will find itself in a win-win situation by utilising the husks for energy generation and utilising the ash as a cement extender in the building industry, or preferably, using it as the raw material to produce pure silicon for the solar energy industry. Regarding the latter, Guyana’s silica sand is the raw material for making the silica used to manufacture photovoltaic cells for the solar energy industry. The process of transformation, however, is highly energy intensive and intricate. Guyana’s vast deposits of silica leached over time is the ideal raw material for producing the pure silica required by the solar energy industry. This, coupled with the cheaper production from available RHA, can form the basis of a thriving sector in Guyana. The rehabilitation of the Tumatumari hydro facility could be tied in with an industrial complex exploiting our sand and other clay resources.

All these activities taken together are implementable and can make a significant contribution to our quest of weaning Guyana off of a fossil fuel-based energy sector while at the same time contributing to the profitability in the rice and timber industries, providing new opportunities for industrial production from the RHA in the rice industry and assisting with the management of the environmental challenges posed by waste to our health and well-being. 

These actions can and should be financed using local capital rather than the usual high-cost and time-consuming international financing mechanisms. Consideration can be given by the government to the establishment of a rotating Fund for the implementation of waste-to-energy projects and institution of fiscal incentives to encourage the private sector to take advantage of this opportunity which, in the final analysis, will yield tremendous benefits to the investor and the wider Guyanese populace. In our haste to address the energy issue locally, let us not forget these low-hanging fruit that can, with the right policy environment and a progressive private sector, redound to the benefit of all Guyanese and to the achievement of a climate resilient and low-carbon development pathway for Guyana and a cleaner and more pristine local environment.

About the Author

Dr. Ulric Trotz, formerly the Science Adviser at the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre in Belize, is a highly accomplished and knowledgeable scientist who has significantly contributed to his field. He has held various leadership positions, including Director of the Science & Technology Division at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Secretary of the Commonwealth Science Council, and Science Adviser to the Commonwealth Secretary General. He has also served as Secretary-General of the National Science Research Council in Guyana and as Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences at the University of Guyana. From 1980 to 1991, Dr. Trotz was Guyana’s Institute of Applied Sciences and Technology Director.

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