Power for the People: A New Source of Biofuel from Chocolate Waste

A man gathers cocoa beans into a bucket

Power for the People: A New Source of Biofuel from Chocolate Waste

A new biofueled power plant in the Ivory Coast is set to improve the profitability of cocoa farming, while also increasing the amount of electricity generated from renewable energy sources.

The new power plant will be the biggest in West Africa with the capacity to deliver between 46-70 megawatts of power per year while reducing the greenhouse gas emissions by 4.5 million tonnes.

“This plant alone will be able to meet the electricity needs of 1.7 million people,” said Yapi Ogou, managing director of the Ivorian company Société des Energies Nouvelles (Soden), a stakeholder in the development of the plant.

What makes the project unique is that the power plant will be entirely fuelled by the waste products generated by cocoa farmers and, as the largest producer of cocoa in the wold, the Ivory Coast has an abundant supply.

Locally, more than 6 million people are employed in the cocoa industry. The Ivory Coast produces more than 40% of the world’s cocoa beans and, by association, a significant amount of waste products including shells, husks and “sweatings” – a liquid produced during the fermentation process.

A number of small, pilot projects have investigated the potential to generate electricity by burning the cocoa waste to turn a turbine. The culmination of this work is the development of the Divo biomass power plant which is being funded partly with money from the US Government.

Alongside the development of a new, renewable form of energy, the project also provides a lifeline to the nation’s cocoa growers who are suffering a period of low returns. Recent years have seen a global oversupply of cocoa, and low profit margins have been exacerbated during COVID-19 lockdowns.

“I grow cocoa and it has educated my children but the returns have been minimal,” said Fraciah, a cocoa farmer near Divo, “we don’t make much profit.”

For Fraciah, who farms around 15 acres of cocoa, the development of a new income stream will be a welcome change.

“Considering I am a widow – my husband died 18 years ago – extra income will also help me educate my four grandchildren. With more money, I can also save.”

The development of a new industry will also provide jobs and economic opportunities for those outside the agricultural value chain, which comes just at the right time for the Ivory Coast.

“Successful utilisation of these cocoa pods will not only ensure universal access to electricity, but also add value to the cocoa production value chain, in addition to other economic benefits,” said Mohammed Adow who provides advice on energy issues to African governments.

“Job creation through collection, transportation, storage and processing of the pods will be realised. It will empower many economically.”

The Ivory Coast currently generates around 70% of its energy from natural gas. National targets are aiming to increase the use of renewable sources to 42% by 2030, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 28%.

Sources: BBC
Image: “COCOA PLAN” by Nestlé is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0